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Published by Svale Fossåskaret

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Published by: Svale Fossåskaret on Nov 13, 2012
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03/22/2014

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In 1999, a group of Central-American farmers, NGOs and researchers met in Nicaragua to discuss
how they could cooperate in order to meet challenges concerning food crops such as beans, maize and
sorghums. Te main problems they saw was related to pest control, low yields, genetic erosion, and the
importance of conserving local varieties by combining traditional and scientifc knowledge of agricultural
diversity. Te Participatory Plant Breeding in Meso-America program (PPBMA) was born.

In brief, the program gives small scale farmers the possibility to sustain and exchange local varieties of
seeds, involve in plant breeding and have the control over the rights to their own seeds. Furthermore,
the farmers learn to adapt to climate change and improve their livelihood through participatory plant
breeding and improved agricultural methods.

Te Participatory Plant Breeding in Meso-America (PPBMA) is a regional project spread across
Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba. Te program brings
together farmers, researchers and NGOs in a collabourative alliance for agro-biodiversity conservation.
Farmers and local partners from Central America supported by the Development Fund`s biodiversity
program have succeeded in conserving biodiversity and providing economic and food security solutions
for over 4000 small scale farmers in the region. Te farmer’s ability to adapt by using and develop a wide
variety of genetic resources becomes an important coping mechanism in the region where the climate is
changing rapidly.

One of the main results of the program has been to capitalize on farmer’s knowledge about how to use
traditional biodiversity conserved on their farms. Te transition from sowing grains to producing and
sowing good quality seeds is another key result. Keeping attributes of colour and taste is part of having
a good quality seed. However, the most relevant factor is to have control over the process from its initial
stages; provided that farmers have the proper economic incentives and the institutional collabouration
required to conduct the research needed, they can recover or reproduce seed in case of a natural disaster.

Traditional knowledge meets technical expertise

Farmers have conserved their traditional varieties as a cultural and food security strategy for many
years. Although special attributes such as taste and colour and resistance to pests is the most common
reason for farmers to maintain their traditional farming, most farmers agree that low yield represents a
challenge in many traditional varieties. In Central America beans are an important source of income and
for food security.

When the PPBMA-program started in 2000, all the farmers argued that their main problem was linked
to control two main plagues of beans: Mosaico Dorado (MD) and Mosca Blanca (MB). Most of the
commercial seed varieties used in 2000 failed to efectively combat these two plagues, and additionally,
they lacked the colour favoured by the farmers and the market. Te project aims to address these problems
by saving the diversity of local seeds and developing and improving seeds that are adapted to the local
conditions in cooperation with the local farmer.

Te project has shown numerous positive results, such as improved food security due to plants that are less
vulnerable to local climate variability and changes, increased knowledge through cooperation between
farmers, NGO, academic/scientifc sectors and students. Several new plant varieties now contribute to
agricultural biodiversity. Furthermore, the yields have been increased by at least 50% for basic grains,
and major progress has been done on sorghum and bean verities. In addition and of major importance,
farmers have learned to handle and conserve seeds properly, and are now applying their knowledge from
the plant breeding work on other plants as well.

Self-sufciency and diversity in seeds results in increased fexibility under climate variability and
change. Te farmers are also being trained in the establishment of relations with governmental, non-
governmental and academic organizations as well as cooperatives, markets and youth groups. Te local
cooperatives are linked with each other, and have formed a national federation. Some of the farmers have

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formed a commercializing committee for seeds, credits, education and research, aiming to commercialize
improved seeds from the participatory plant breeding work. Te cooperatives are also investing in capital
goods under collective ownership, for example wet cofee processing plant or chicken farm. Te diferent
communities are addressing environmental, social and economic aspects. Women groups make family
gardens, and apply organic and agro-ecological practices – with better result.

More information:
The Development Fund (Norway) www.utviklingsfondet.no

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