On Farm Crop Conservation

Climate change represents a threat to the genetic security of the crop base of many farming regions. Plants which have been bred to exist in certain climatic conditions will face new ranges of temperature, precipitation, and disease prevalence. Farmers face the long term challenge of gradually changing conditions which will consistently threaten production and livelihood if not met with effective adaptation of genetic resources. Greater agricultural biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> instills resilience for farmers by giving them a wider set of potentially effective crops. The necessity of plant breeding to this end has been recognized and approached in two manners: ex-situ conservation; breeding centers and storage collections operated by governmental or academic institutions, or in-situ conservation; on-farm efforts to maintain genetic diversity both to satisfy the economic needs of the producer and the ecological need for biodiversity of the community and natural environment. Specifically, farmers saving their own seed, rather than buying it from afar, allows for a locally adapted network of productive genetic resources which are especially resilient to local disturbances. Sthapit et al. examined the necessity of in situ conservation systems as a measure to ensure food security, particularly respondent to climate change. The authors also make recommendations as to how to best implement programs which conserve agricultural biodiversity despite the pressure of social and market forces which threaten local seed conservation practices. .—Asa Smith Kamer
 Sthapit, B., Padulosi, S., Ma, B., 2010. Role of On-farm/In situ Conservation and Underutilized Crops in the Wake of Climate Change. Indian Journal of Plant Genetic Resources 23–34.

The range of plant diseases and pests will change substantially as temperatures change. This poses a direct threat to agricultural areas which do not feature a diverse range of crops. Areas with only one or several strains of the same crop are particularly threatened by pathogens which are not known to farmers. Without biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]>XE “biodiversity”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, diseases which effect one crop can devastate production and livelihoods by damaging large acreages. Areas which have a great agricultural diversity will be much less damaged by any one disease. A large portfolio of genetics is a crucial resource for communities which rely primarily on agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> for their subsistence. Although many areas which are now adopting the farming practice of monocropping may not find maintenance of genetic diversity to be economically effective, it may become more attractive in changing climate conditions.
Sthapitet al. addressed the reasons why in-situ strategies for plant genetic conservation have not yet been able to have a significant effect despite being recognized by large agencies which seek to enhance food security. The authors’ research revealed that although there is a significant scientific effort to encourage genetic conservation, there is also a lack of knowledge of how best to implement farmer-initiated conservation measures. Most projects which already exist are ex-situ breeding facilities which do not provide access of findings or success to farmers. These facilities also have difficulty incorporating local informal farmer knowledge, often a region’s most significant source of agronomical information. These facilities are often isolated from the farming communities which could benefit the most from professional and well-funded efforts at biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]>XE “biodiversity”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> breeding.
The current institutional mindset does not favor farmer projects. It has been a challenge to identify economically sustainable incentives which encourage farmers to practice conservation breeding. It was found by the researchers that farmers who actively conserve biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> on site generally do so because it serves an immediate benefit to their livelihood. Considering the general increase in market forces being experienced by farmers of all scales worldwide, it is unlikely that practices which encourage agricultural biodiversity will continue unless they are economically competitive. The authors note that economic incentives from governments or information campaigns by non-governmental organizations could also potentially encourage these practices. Although successful models of this type of intervention do not yet exist, the authors point to them as an important future focus of research and funding.

Climate change is expected to increase extreme events such as floods, draughts and landslides. However, farmers will experience warming patterns most severely as a long term increase of uncertainty. By integrating a diverse range of crops, trees, livestock, and aquatic species farmers can build the capacity to produce a livelihood in a wider range of possible climates. Given the importance of encouraging local on-site biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> conservation, the authors give criteria for evaluating a community’s current and potential resources to ensure agricultural biodiversity: the specific community processes which purposely or inadvertently produce agricultural diversity, the specific local actors who maintain genetic diversity, and the factors which encourage farmers to continue or abandon traditionally effective methods of seed saving. These features contribute to the relative strengths or weaknesses of a community’s food security.

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