SEARICE Highlights Importance of CSBs in International Event
By Cid Manalo
ROME, Italy, 12 November 2019 – The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) and Mekong Delta Development Research Institute of Can Tho University (MDI-CTU) in Vietnam in cooperation with Swedbio and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Norway held a side event during the 8th Governing Body (GB8) Meeting of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).
With the theme, “Securing Local Seed Systems: The Journey of Farmers’ Seed Clubs in Vietnam,” the event aimed to share lessons from the experiences of seed clubs and inspire the delegates to further strengthen their commitments in adopting targeted and community-based approaches in the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
Highlighting the socio-economic impacts of seed clubs to their members, Dr. Huynh Quang Tin from MDI-CTU, a long-time partner of SEARICE, emphasized that seed clubs are a good model of sustainable seed supply systems, where seed conservation, exchange, and crop improvement take place.
“[Seed clubs] help strengthen capacities of farmers and local institutions on participatory plant breeding and agricultural researches in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam,” he said.
According to Dr. Tin, a key to their success is the empowering methodologies of participatory variety rehabilitation, participatory variety selection, and participatory plant breeding which resulted in the development of 360 farmers’ varieties, five of which are already nationally certified.
Dr. Tin also emphasized that seed systems like seed clubs are important in the improvement of access to and availability of seeds, maintenance of crop diversity for food security, and that they positively contribute to the national breeding program through the linkages established between the formal and informal seed sectors. He added that adjustments should be made in the certification process of new rice varieties to address the financial and technical requirements which create great challenges to farmers wanting to apply for certification.
In her discussion of the opportunities and challenges for scaling up the seed club model, Normita Ignacio, SEARICE Executive Director, said that the strong local support established over the years and the proven capacities of the seed clubs can be a springboard for further development, but “some policies and the tedious and long-process of registration and certification remain as roadblocks.”
Ignacio urged the participants to reflect on why sustainable models such as seed clubs exist, but are continually ignored, and asked if it is a case of missing targets or conflicting interests. “Power has only one duty — to secure the social welfare of the people,” she said.
Carina Knorpp of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Sweden and one of the reactors of the event, applauded the success of the program in Vietnam, pointing out the contributions, directly and indirectly to the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. Comparing it to Hans Rosling’s analysis on the magic of the washing machine, which gives a mother enough time to teach her children to read books, she said the seed clubs’ monumental successes “increased resilience and increased income (which) made it possible to invest directly and indirectly on the education (of the farmers’ children) and more secure economy.”
Elin Cecilie Ranum of the Development Fund and an advisor to the Norwegian Delegation to the GB8 commented that she was impressed not only with the number of farmers’ varieties created, but also with the crucial role given to farmers as breeders and as innovators. “Farmers are not only producing the food, and using and conserving agrobiodiversity, they are also the ones strengthening, developing and enhancing agrobiodiversity,” she said.
She then outlined lessons such as the involvement of multiple actors in the program, including donors, and the need to have long-time commitment so that real development and impact can be seen.
“The seed clubs show the empowerment of smallholder farmers to genuinely decide for themselves and their communities, and the importance of policies to enact real change,” she added, further stressing that the experience is testament that the informal seed system is not backward but is actually the future.
Inspired by the achievements of the seed clubs, smallholder farmers from Kenya and Zimbabwe who were delegates from the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), shared they would want to see this journey taking place not only in Africa but everywhere else in the world.
One Kenyan farmer underscored the importance of farmers’ self-sufficiency and of engaging in all platforms including policies like the ITPGRFA. “We may not have labs with microscopes and white lab coats but the farms themselves are our laboratories,” he said.