Farmers' Seed Needs Addressed by Developing
a Farmer-Friendly Seed Supply System
One of the biggest problems faced by most farmers in Vietnam is the constrictive access to inexpensive but high quality seeds. Insufficient supply and high cost often prevent farmers from procuring the volume of seeds they need from the state seed supply system. Thus, they rely on their own resources by resorting to the traditional method of exchanging with and selling to small farmers seeds which usually come from commercial rice paddies and preserved from previous cropping seasons. This practice results in the deterioration of the quality of rice and loss of many varieties as well as genetic diversity in their fields.
The production of sufficient volume of high quality varieties at a lower cost was one of the urgent needs addressed by BUCAP. Prior to program implementation, farmers did not the have knowledge and skills on how to rehabilitate deteriorating varieties or develop new ones. But through the FFS, they learned the different aspects and methods of seed rehabilitation, breeding, multiplication and others. In due time, farmers were able to develop varieties which were more suitable to their needs.
This situation was clearly manifested in a case in Kim Boi district in Hoa Binh where a policy required the mandatory planting of hybrid varieties to about 70% of each commune’s rice field every winter-spring season. However, during the spring season of 2003, farmers in Ha Bi and Hop Kim communes which have been implementing BUCAP activities since 2001, decided to use MD25, MD26, AYT77 and a few others different from the hybrids distributed by seed companies. This was because the selected varieties were adaptable to local conditions, showed good characteristics and produced as much yield as those of hybrid varieties. Representatives of the seed companies complained about this to district authorities, who later on visited the communes and saw for themselves that the hybrid rice which came mostly from China was badly affected by diseases and produced very low yield. In contrast, the farmer-selected varieties developed well and had higher yield. The authorities then collected data on the varieties grown by the farmers and later on decided to include these among those to be used in succeeding seasons.
Realizing the value of having an independent seed supply system and to help propagate the varieties they grow, sustain group activities and increase household income, farmers decided to develop their own marketing schemes and mechanisms. One of these schemes is the use of land owned by the cooperative to multiply selected varieties from field trials. A group of farmers maintains the field and the seeds harvested are marketed through the various networks of the cooperative. A part of the proceeds goes to the general funds of the cooperative for FFS activities in the community while another is given to field maintainers and farmers or members of the cooperative who were involved in the process.
Another scheme is to request some farmers to propagate the seeds and when these are sold, the proceeds are divided between the maintainer and the cooperative.
Community leaders are likewise employed as marketing channels because of their status and credibility. Their involvement lends support to the scheme, providing guarantee on the quality and performance of the seeds. Harvested seeds are temporarily kept by the village heads and are disposed of through their vast network. Their participation enables farmers not only to market their harvest but, at the same time, draw political and social support for their group activities which later on can be translated into more concrete policy actions for agricultural biodiversity conservation and development.
But so far, seed exchange can only take place within the communes where farmers reside. The strict measures and standards set by the seed certification system prevent farmers from carrying out commercial seed trading even in the entire province. Farmer-bred varieties need to be distinct, uniform, stable and new to pass the certification requirements.
Farmers have been lobbying for the formulation of different and more achievable measures for their varieties to allow them to trade commercially at least within their provinces if not in the entire country. Certification of seeds developed by the farmers themselves would pave the way for a true farmer-friendly seed supply system.