On-Farm Crop Diversity for Food Security                   

Chimi Tshewang

Udaric village in Khengkhar Geog under Mongar Dzongkhag has 75 households. Agriculture is the primary means of livelihood of the farmers in this village.

The village farmers continue to maintain large diversity of crops in their farms. To these farmers, cultivating different types of crops means assured food security.

“We always believe that if one crop fails, we can still rely on another,” said 50-year-old Tashi Wangchuk, a village farmer. “We also need different crops for our social and cultural needs,” he added.

Maize is the main staple food which is planted and harvested twice annually. Udaric village is very popular for the cultivation of a wide variety of cereals namely barley, buckwheat, finger millet, foxtail millet, little millet, sorghum, amaranth and different types of grain legumes. Other crops cultivated by the farmers are potato, mustard, and upland rice.

In 2013, Udaric village was selected as the on-farm BUCAP project site for conservation, development, and utilization of arable crops managed by the community. 

In order to establish the baseline status of the arable crops for the on-farm conservation project, a rapid assessment was undertaken. The assessment revealed that the cultivation of some of the cereals like barley, foxtail millet, finger millet, sorghum, and amaranth were declining at an unprecedented rate. 

The communities point to the following activities as the six reasons for the rapid decline and loss of their important crops:

  • Regularization of the ancestral slash-and-burn system (locally termed as Tsheri) of farming into permanent dry land farming by the government to discourage the slash-and burn-system due to its adverse effect on the environment. In the past, farmers mainly used the slash-and-burn system for cultivation of secondary cereals like millets and sorghum.

  • Decreasing farm labor and workforce in agriculture resulting from education and migration to urban areas.

  • The general perception that the cereals that supplement household food security are secondary or minor crops leading to their status as being neglected and underutilized.

  • Lack of agricultural development programs to promote and support the development of the perceived minor crops.

  • Low level of awareness on the nutritional status of these crops and their resilience against adverse impacts of climate change. These crops are very hardy and have adapted very well under adverse conditions and are a means for the communities to cope with food shortages in the time of crop failures.

  • Incidences of new disease like Gray Leaf Spot of maize almost wiped out their traditional maize varieties.

 

The most notable finding of the baseline study in 2013 was that the two varieties of maize and some varieties of millets were on the verge of extinction. Taking off from the lessons of the BUCAP project the conservation, development and utilization of arable crops was initiated at Udaric. The Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Center (RNR-RDC), Wengkhar in collaboration with Geog Agriculture Extension Office and farmers undertook the following activities:

  • Seed purification, multiplication, and rehabilitation to save crops and varieties under threat of extinction

  • Creation of a community bio-diversity registry at the Agriculture Extension Center Office to document the status of crops and varieties managed by farmers

  • Conduct of Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) on maize to diversify maize varieties by introducing new varieties possessing tolerance to the devastating gray leaf spot disease

  • Conduct of farmers’ training on developing different maize products to enhance the utilization of maize for human consumption

  • Conduct of training on improved methods of seed selection in maize (30 participants) and PVS (20 participants)

  • Demonstration of new crops like upland rice and different vegetables, and provision of supply of seeds to enhance on-farm diversity

  • Marketing of grain legumes for household income generation

  • Formation of community-based seed production (CBSP) groups on maize

 

During the Community-self Assessment (CSA) exercise, it was found that the efforts of the BUCAP did not go in vain. Farmers of Udaric village proudly reported that as a result of the project interventions, they have achieved the following:

  • Improved self-sufficiency among 95% of the BUCAP participants from the increased production of maize as a result of the introduction of new disease-tolerant, high-yielding maize varieties and better-quality seeds

  • Revival of the cultivation of their local maize variety Teksumpa Ashom. This variety is now used for triple cropping of maize as it matures in about 90 days.

  • Revival of the cultivation of millet

  • Promotion of cultivation of upland rice

  • Production of new vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower

  • Sale of 1,500 kgs. of surplus maize

  • Increase in maize production in 35% of farmers

  • Increase in the number of maize varieties planted in the village, from 6 to 8

 

The BUCAP interventions have indeed gone a long way towards maintaining on-farm PGR diversity. The food security of the poor Udaric farmers continues to improve through the cultivation of different crops and more varieties. Udaric farmers hope to achieve food security with crop diversity and the goal look realistic, but much still remains to be achieved to make the neglected and underutilized crops more productive.

searicelogo_high res.png

COPYRIGHT © 2018

Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment

 

All Rights Reserved.

Photos are contributed by SEARICE staff and partner organizations and government agencies.