For SEARICE, smallholder farmers are front and center.
SEARICE acknowledges the crucial role that farmers play in agriculture and biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and ultimately, in ensuring human survival. Thus, initiatives conceived and implemented by SEARICE with its partners in all its project sites in Bhutan, Cambodia, East Timor, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, always put the farmers at the center.
Through the years, SEARICE and its partner organizations, have implemented initiatives—sometimes as stand-alone programs, oftentimes mixed and matched and further localized to respond to the needs and contexts of the community—that ensure farmer empowerment.
Focus on Community Traditional Knowledge and Practices for Food Security
SEARICE recognizes that the knowledge and experiences of the farming communities of indigenous peoples and smallholder farmers (IPSHF) are integral elements and actors in developing appropriate responses to address problems that directly affect them.
Thus, SEARICE always takes into consideration partner communities’ prior knowledge and experiences when developing and implementing projects, building on them while at the same time enhancing them by introducing new adaptation mechanisms, which the community itself will decide to either adopt or not based on their local contexts.
In one project implemented in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015, for example, prior knowledge of the farmers in farming, climate change, and their local contexts were carefully integrated in the project design. This resulted in the development of locally appropriate adaptation strategies for food security, done by bridging traditional knowledge and science on plant genetic resources and incorporating local perceptions on climate change.
The initiative helped address genetic erosion and contributed to improving farmers’ access to seeds. The introduction and integration of new techniques likewise lessened the amount of seeds required for production, thus allowing for seeds to be saved.
Resilient Community-managed Seed Systems
One of the biggest challenges that confront smallholder farming communities is the lack of or limited access to plant genetic resources (PGR). Without access to PGR, farmers are limited to varieties that may not be suitable to the conditions of their locality, resulting in plants that may not be able to withstand climatic conditions in the area, which in turn result in limited to no harvest. SEARICE thus ensures that in its projects, having such access is a key outcome.
Case in point: In one project implemented in the Philippines and Cambodia from 2013 to 2015, a pre-determined core outcome was the establishment of resilient farms through conservation and development of agricultural biodiversity that will contribute to food security.
At the end of the project, there was dramatic increase in rice diversity in the project sites. A total of 117 segregating lines, 38 stable lines, 25 upland rice varieties were introduced in the project sites in the Philippines while 2 segregating lines, 4 stable lines from SEARICE, 6 old releases from the International Rice Research Institute and 10 varieties from the Mekong Delta Research Institute were introduced to the partner communities in Cambodia.
Farmers were capacitated to develop varieties that will adapt and make them more resilient to climatic challenges.
Community Seed Registry
Community Seed Registry
When plant variety protection was introduced in the Philippines in 2002 with the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP Act) as a sui generis system in compliance with WTO-TRIPS, many small-scale farmers engaged in participatory plant breeding (PPB) reacted, fearing—among other things—that their innovations could be misappropriated by those who are interested to benefit from the PVP.
As a collective response to the Act, the Campagao Farmers' Production and Research Association (CFPRA) of the municipality of Bilar in the province of Bohol, decided to establish a community seed registry in collaboration with SEARICE.
Community registry serves as an instrument to avoid misappropriation by putting community materials and knowledge in the public domain. It does not claim ownership nor place plant varieties under a strict and monopolistic property right. It recognizes that the origin and developer of the varieties are the farmers and upholds the principle that seeds should be freely and widely accessed and exchanged.
Community registries may evolve differently from the others, but they share common elements, such as:
Community Declaration. This serves as the basis for farmers and the local communities to publicly and collectively assert their rights over local plant genetic resources, e.g. joint affidavit, resolution or statements by communities or farmers’ organizations, public ceremonies, rituals or oral traditions, audio or video techniques, or other indigenous means of documentation
Legal Recognition. This obliges the State to recognize the registries and to provide them with a mantle of legal protection. Legal recognition implies recognition of farmers’ rights to seeds, and hence expands the arena for farmers to assert such rights.
Community Protocol. This refers to protocols or procedures meant to facilitate access more systematically and to ensure that farmers’ rights to the accessed materials are recognized.
The Community Registry Model goes hand in hand with the concept of on Community Protocol, which believes that communities, through their own processes, can come up with their own set of rules or standards or guidelines, or mechanisms, through which the use of their resources are governed or regulated. As such, it is crucial that farmers are organized and agreed to establish the registry.
Participatory Plant Breeding
Participatory Plant Breeding is one of the key initiatives of SEARICE. The main component of the measure is the capacity development of farming communities on rice breeding using farmer field school (FFS) as an approach.
Through this approach, farmers enhance their knowledge and skills on rice breeding through experiential learning. The farmers themselves define their breeding objectives and identify the parent materials for their breeding activities.
SEARICE’s participatory plant breeding (PPB) is meant not only to conserve and develop plant genetic resources but more importantly, to empower farming communities. This empowerment helps farmers recognize their inherent capacities and realize that they can help themselves secure their local seed systems so that they do not rely on the government or seed companies.
This is very important in all our project sites. In Laos, for example, it was crucial because formal seed systems can only provide around 10% of the seed demand in the country. Through the PPB, farmers produced 55 rice varieties of very good performance—some are tolerant to drought, some are tolerant to acid sulfate soil. Some communities of indigenous peoples in Luangprabang claimed to have closed the three-month hunger gaps they used to experience because of the benefits from these rice varieties.
SEARICE farmer-partners have become vital sources of seeds especially since the government and commercial seed producers could not meet the demands in volume and quality. The dependability of rice varieties developed and seeds produced by farmers was demonstrated when disaster struck some villages in in Laos in 2008 resulting in massive loss of harvest. SEARICE farmer-partners provided the villages with the needed volume of seeds to replace crops damaged by flood and strong typhoon.
In Vietnam, Seed Clubs are recognized as important suppliers of good quality seeds in the region not only by farmers, but also by local government authorities such as the Seed Centers, Extension Centers and the Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).
Seed clubs, now over 325 across the Mekong Delta, serve as vehicles for further farmers’ capacity-building in seed club management and production/marketing, as seed club membership requires interested farmers to undergo trainings in plant breeding and seed production. Seed clubs also play a crucial role in the conservation and sustainable use of rice genetic resources. Aware of the impacts of climate change, farmers continue to develop varieties that adapt to their local conditions.
Seed clubs are also a mechanism for sustainability. A leading rice producer, Vietnam requires great volumes of seeds to meet domestic demands for production, which the government and seed companies in the region cannot meet. Seed clubs supply at least 35% of the seed demand in the whole region. This is highly significant considering that the formal system contributes only 3.5% of the total rice seed requirement in the Mekong River Delta (Tin, et al. 2008).
In 2018 alone, the seed clubs produced and distributed 158,000 tons of seeds which benefited approximately 24,000 households (computed based on 6.6 tons seed rate per hectare with average land area of 1 hectare per household).
From 2000 to 2018, the seed clubs in Mekong Delta developed and “released” 359 rice varieties, of which three have already received national registration and certification, an evidence that farmer varieties can pass the rigid tests of the formal system. Five more farmer varieties are currently in the pipeline for national registration, proof that the common notion that farmer varieties are of “poor quality” is unfounded.
Local, National, and Global Policy Work
SEARICE’s work on the ground with provides the foundation for its policy advocacy work at the local, national, and global policy spaces. As it builds the technical capacity of farmers through its farmer field schools, it also empowers them and its partner institutions to push for local and national policies that put the farmers at the center.In the municipality of Arakan, North Cotabato in the Philippines, for example, SEARICE provided capacity workshop both for farmers and municipal agricultural officers to draft agricultural code, which has since been adopted by the municipality.
SEARICE is likewise a strong voice for farmers in international policy spaces, participating either as a regional CSO or as a member of the Philippine delegation, or both. As CSO representative, SEARICE seeks to influence deliberations by the government-parties through statements presented during plenary discussions and participating in small group discussions, and lobbying governments to support specific positions. As a member of the Philippine delegation, SEARICE acts as an advisory arm on issues affecting plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), suggesting and drafting government interventions.
At the 39th session of the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, SEARICE defined “putting farmers at the center” as not only consulting with farmers but empowering and capacitating them to make informed decisions.
In the 14th CGRFA, SEARICE reiterated its position on intellectual property rights (IPRs) and plant breeders rights (PBRs) that the discussion on access and benefit sharing (ABS) should benefit small farmers and that a review should be conducted on how intellectual property rights impact on farmers’ rights; GRFA conservation, development and use; and agricultural biodiversity.
SEARICE has also strongly advocated for precautionary approach to new technologies, such as biofuels, synthetic biotechnology, and geo-engineering, among others, in various international policy spaces.
In its later work in 2018 and 2019, SEARICE significantly contributed in the discourses in four major international meetings: 1) First Meeting of the Ad-hoc Technical Experts Group on Farmers’ Rights in Rome, Italy on September 9-14, 2018; 2) Strategic Convening on Resilient Seed Systems in Oaxaca, Mexico on October 22-25, 2018; 3) 14th Meeting of the Convention of Parties to the CBD, 9th Meeting of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol, and 3rd Meeting of Parties to the Nagoya Protocol in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt on November 14-29, 2018; and 4) 17th Meeting of the CGRFA in Rome, Italy on February 18-22, 2019.
Among the significant milestones reached were the establishment of the Ad-Hoc Technical Experts Group (AHTEG) on which SEARICE has been devoting its efforts since 2011; active and critical involvement in the global discourses on agricultural biodiversity, resilient seed systems, agroecology, Farmers’ Rights; and recognition of SEARICE’s work at the grassroots level which merited an invitation to represent food producers. The organization’s work in this project has established stronger connections with network partners and alliances with representatives from various countries with the same advocacies.
For this landlocked country in South Asia, agriculture is the main livelihood for more than half (nearly 56%) of the population. Agricultural practices consist largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Top agricultural produce: rice, chilies, dairy products, buckwheat, barley, root crops, apples, and citrus.
38,394 sq km (14,824 sq mi)
• Water (%)
• 2017a census
18.9/ sq km (49.0/sq mi) (196th)
Agriculture and its related sub-sectors play a major role in Cambodian economy. Most rural households depend on agriculture. In 1985, the sector accounted for 90 percent of the country’s GDP, employing approximately 80 percent of the work force. Principal crop is rice. Secondary crops are: cassava, cassava, groundnuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and sesame seeds.
181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi) (88th)
• Water (%)
• 2018 estimate
• 2008 census
81.8/sq km (211.9/sq mi) (118th)
East Timor is an agricultural country. Eighty percent of the active population are employed in the agriculture sector. employs 80% of the active population.
The main crops are coffee, cinnamon and cocoa. It is the 40th top producer of coffee n the world, the 6th and 50th top producer of cinnamon and cocoa, respectively
15,410 km2 (5,950 sq mi) (154th)
• Water (%)
• 2015 census, 1,167,242
78/km2 (202.0/sq mi)
Rice is the country's main agricultural product, accounting for 97% of its total grain production by weight. Estimated rice production in 2008 was 50,000,000 tons.
676,578 sq km (261,228 sq mi) (39th)
• Water (%)
• 2017 census, 53,582,855 (25th)
76/km2 (196.8/sq mi) (125th)
As a newly industrialized country, the Philippines has been transitioning from its agricultural economy to manufacturing and services. Agriculture employs 27% of its labor force. Its main agricultural crop are rice, corn, coconut, sugarcane, banana, cassava, pineapple, and vegetables.
300,000 sq km (120,000 sq mi) (72nd)
• Water (%)
.61% (inland water)
• 2015 census, 100,981,437 (13th)
336/ sq km (870.2/sq mi) (47th)
The agriculture sector employs 49% of Thailand's labor force. The main crop is rice, and for a long time, Thailand was the world's leading exporter of rice until recently when it was overtaken by India and Vietnam. Fifty-five percent of the country's huge arable land is devoted to rice production.
513,120 sq km (198,120 sq mi) (50th)
• Water (%)
0.4 (2,230 sq km)
• 2016 estimate, 68,863,514 (20th)
132.1/km2 (342.1/sq mi) (88th)
Agriculture plays an important role in the economy of Vietnam. It is the world's largest producer of cashew nuts and black pepper, and the second largest exporter of rice and and coffee.
513,120 sq km (198,120 sq mi) (50th)
• Water (%)
0.4 (2,230 sq km)
• 2016 estimate, 94,569,07215th)
276.03/sq km (714.9/sq mi) (46th)