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Solution Cluster 1.1.2b

Put Farmers’ and Indigenous Peoples’ Access to Crop Diversity First in Seed Policy and Practice

The diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is crucial for farmers’ ability to adapt their food production to the effects of climate change and ensure access to safe and nutritious food. This proposal calls for a fundamental re-think of how seed system development is supported globally. Our proposal is to ensure and promote – through legislation, seed policies, and action – farmers’ access to a diversity of well-adapted varieties of crops that meet agroecological and nutritional needs and preferences. Farmers’ seed systems are key to providing farmers with access to both local varieties developed over millennia of farmer selection and modern varieties developed with modern plant breeding. We call for a bottom-up demand-driven approach to seed security to complement the currently dominant top-down supply-side approach, thereby supporting farmers’ agency and recognising farmers’ seed systems contribution to global food security.

About this Solution Cluster

The currently dominant approach for seed system development is unable to meet the needs of most farmers in the Global South. In most low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), farmers’ seed systems supply the bulk of the seeds used by smallholders. This proposal addresses the problems of meeting the needs of farmers and halting loss of agrobiodiversity by moving seed security center stage in all seed policies and actions. Seed security exists when men and women within the household have sufficient access to quantities of available good quality seed and planting materials of preferred crop varieties at all times in both good and bad cropping seasons (FAO, 2016).

Food security starts with a seed. This is recognized in SDG 2, the Zero Hunger goal, for which target 2.5 is about maintaining the diversity of plants and animals used in agriculture. Placing farmers’ access to crop diversity first in seed system policy and practice will link ‘upstream’ efforts to conserve agrobiodiversity with ‘downstream’ efforts to strengthen farmers’ livelihoods and food security. 

Changing the rules of the game of this central part of the food sector by putting the needs of the smallholder farmer at the core will enable local breeding and development of these resources as a vital contribution to seed and food security. This approach will expand on the vast diversity of local crop varieties that are adapted and adaptable to local environmental conditions and climate change. It will also meet nutritional needs and local preferences for food and fodder. 

The proposed actions will be gender-responsive, considering the differences in use, preferences, and benefits between men and women. Women and men have access to different spaces and environments and fulfil different tasks that give them distinctive information and practical knowledge about local agricultural biodiversity. Clarifying the differences and complementarities is essential to ensuring gender equality in community-based agrobiodiversity management and to meet the particular needs of women across diverse contexts.

Research documents that small-scale farmer in many LMICs are increasingly exposed to crop failure, hunger, and poverty due to effects of climate change (FAO 2016a, IPCC 2018, Leichenko and Silva 2014) and that diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is a crucial factor in their ability to adapt their food production to the effects of climate change, like rising temperatures, droughts, floods, pests, and diseases (IPBES 2019, FAO 2015, Winge 2014, IPCC 2014, Fujisaka et al 2010, United Nations 2009, Andersen 2008, Esquinas-Alcázar 2005).

Research also shows that women form an integral part of agriculture in LMICs – as farmers, custodians and users of seed and traditional knowledge (Pionetti & Ruiz 2010) — and that women and men have access to different spaces and environments and fulfil different tasks that give them distinctive information and practical knowledge about local agricultural biodiversity (Momsen et al 2013). An increasing body of research documents that community seed banks and participatory plant breeding programmes have emerged as promising platforms to maximise the benefits of local crop diversity for food security, poverty alleviation, and livelihoods (Andersen 2019a and 2019b, Westengen and Winge 2019, Maharajan et al 2018, Andersen et al 2018, Vernooy et al 2017, Vernooy et al 2015, Andersen and Winge 2013, Ashby 2009, Almekinders and Hardon 2006, Jones et al. 2004, Morris and Bellon 2004, Sperling et al. 2001).

However, research also shows that farmers’ customary rights to save, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed are being challenged throughout the world, thus decreasing the legal space for farmers to manage their crop genetic resources for seed and food security and continue contributing to crop genetic diversity (Lawson & Adhikari, eds. 2018, Kell et al, 2017, Andersen 2016, Andersen 2013, Santilli 2012, United Nations 2009, Andersen 2008, Brush 2004). Also, agricultural policies are generally set up to support the formal seed system, thereby neglecting and marginalising farmers’ seed systems instead of promoting and enhancing them, as set out in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (e.g., Andersen 2017, 2016, Andersen and Winge, 2013).

This idea supports achieving several global goals, including the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, particularly Articles 5, 6, and 9; the SDGs, particularly Targets 2.5 and 15.6; Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; and Convention on Biological Diversity, particularly its objective on sustainable use and Aichi target 13 on agricultural biodiversity.

Scaling of knowledge and skills development, advocacy for and by youth from different origins and levels of education, peer networks, agribusiness links, and support of youth agribusiness ecosystems constitute the core of this solution. The proposed African Youth Skills & Advocacy Platform builds on, taps into, and complements a wide range of existing initiatives. The considerable body of evidence of the constituents of this solution cluster indicates its potential to bundle and innovate fragmented support approaches for significant scale and impacts for future food producers, sustainable growth, and food systems transformation.

The initiatives below are of special relevance without being comprehensive. Nutrition-sensitive business skills development is implemented by GIZ, ENABEL, their public and private partners at a large scale, with the support of public and private donors and progressively taken up by national organisations. AfDB flagship programmes include Enable Youth, Jobs for Youth, and AFAWA. AUDA-NEPAD and GIZ work on gender-transformative approaches promoting women in agricultural technical vocational education and training in Africa. Other initiatives are supported or led by IFAD (e.g., Senegal), French Cooperation (e.g., AFOP in Cameroon), Olam (e.g., Côte d’Ivoire), and Songhai Centers in Benin and other West African countries. The national fora of GFRAS provide advocacy and skills development for public, private, and civil society extension staff on nutrition-sensitive EAS. Various Dig4Agriculture initiatives work on applications, media, and learning platforms or provide support to start-ups. Many AU member countries develop policies and programmes to support youth in agribusiness. Youth networks include, among others, Nourishing Africa, YPARD, CSAYN, 4-H Council, and student agricultural associations in academic and vocational training in agriculture. AUC is currently drafting an African Agribusiness Youth Strategy. The IFAD Rural Development Report, ‘Creating opportunities for rural youth,’ and  Ceres2030 Summary Report provides specific solutions related to skills development and involving youth in food systems transformations. FAO and IFPRI completed a global study on agriculture human capital development and developed an investment brief for youth, targeted at financing institutions such as IFAD and the World Bank, other investors like governments, and bilateral and multilateral donors. The CGIAR Research Program on Livestock, led by ILRI, has developed a strategy to better engage youth in livestock value chains.[1]https://hdl.handle.net/10568/101459 Good practice examples for rural youth employment has been identified by GIZ.[2]GIZ. 2020.  What works in rural youth employment promotion?

This solution cluster adds value to the above initiatives by building bridges and cooperation between urban and rural youth and from different countries and other stakeholders (i.e., policymakers, donors, investors, and industry). Harnessing ICT enhances multiple country actions. By connecting so many initiatives, scaling, and innovating, this solution will contribute to the Right to Food (see above) and to SDGs 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, and 17 with spillovers to SDG 3, 9, 12, 13, and 15, as shown below. Just push the Youth Button to make African Youth Skills & Advocacy Platform for future food producers become reality.

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