A New Approach for Managing
a Community Seed Bank for On-Farm Conservation
Neelam Pradhan and Ugyen Dendup
The Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Center (RDC), Bhur under the Department of Agriculture (DoA) has adapted a new approach for the effective management and utilization of a Community Seed Bank (CSB). It can be called as the Research Center-managed CSB. Effective management and utilization of CSBs has often been a challenge as it is a common property resource which also means no individual owns it. In Bhutan, CSB is a fairly new concept and its effective management by communities has remained a formidable task.
The Research Center-managed CSB at Bhur was started in 2008 with the support of the Biodiversity Use and Conservation Asia Program (BUCAP) project. In the second phase of the BUCAP project, Sarpang Dzongkhag was selected as the on-farm conservation site for cereals and RDC Bhur was identified as the new project stakeholder.
The main objective of the BUCAP project was the conservation, development, and utilization of major food crops and their varieties especially focusing on traditional varieties which are under increasing threats of being displaced, lost, and even becoming extinct. The CSB at Bhur is housed in the RDC complex and is managed by the Field Crops Research Program.
The CSB has a collection of over 100 varieties of rice, maize, millets, and legumes held in trust for use by the farming communities in the country and by interested national institutions engaged for research and development. The BUCAP project has significantly facilitated the storage facilities in this CSB by providing good seed storage facilities in the form of deep freezers, seed containers, cooling facilities, and seed holding cabinet.
The CSB is linked to the National Biodiversity Center (NBC) through the BUCAP project. The Field Crops researchers undertake the seed purification, maintenance and distribution to interested farmers. The seed maintenance, characterization, and regeneration plots serve as a good demonstration site for the visiting farmers. Here, the farmers can select rice varieties of their interest for their specific locations. The seeds are made available free of cost to all interested parties.
The CSB serves as a good platform for seed exchange, conservation, and utilization and helps to take the conservation objective forward. It is an important source of seed of traditional varieties especially those from the sub-tropical and humid tropical agro-ecozones. The trend on the seed demand of different crops from the CSB has been increasing since it started in 2008 (Figure 1). Researchers at RDC Bhur have purified 26 different traditional rice varieties. The role of CSB has been instrumental for the diversification of traditional crop varieties.
Among the cereals, rice by far dominates the seed request from farmers. The most popular rice varieties requested and the total seed of these varieties made available by the CSB is shown in Figure 2.
Apart from rice, the CSB also conserves seeds of other cereals. Among them are the released varieties of maize, four promising new maize varieties, and 19 local millet varieties that have been collected for characterization and maintenance at the CSB.
The effect of the Research Center-managed CSB has been phenomenal for the diversification of traditional crop varieties especially the popular rice varieties in the BUCAP sites in Samtse and Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhags. This is the first CSB that has very actively engaged in the rehabilitation of traditional crop varieties. It has demonstrated an alternative model for effectively operating and managing a CSB which is a common property resource. Having an operational CSB at regional levels makes it more accessible to the local communities. However, the CSB is still rudimentary and has been sustained with BUCAP support and commitment of the researchers at Bhur. Much more remains to be done to make this CSB more scientific and effective to carry out the on-farm conservation objectives. One thing that has to be kept in mind though is that the Research Center-managed CSB should not duplicate the role of the National Seed Gene Bank at NBC.
HARVESTS: Farmers’ Success Stories
Copyright 2016 Bhutan National Biodiversity Center and Ministry of Agriculture and Forests