Local seeds were known to be highly resistant to crop diseases and adapted to the soil and water conditions in the respective land areas. However, not only easy access for those who had money but also higher yields in some years motivated many farmers to shift from local seeds to imported – typically hybrid seed – varieties.
What’s the situation today, around fifteen years after Timsina’s study? Well, Timsina’s observations stand as testimony to the early stages in the commercialisation of agriculture in Nepal – and to a loss of local seed varieties and seed management systems which has only accelerated. Ask among farmers and more will say now than back then, like one farmer recently did, that: “Our local seeds are about to disappear. If for some reason these [imported] hybrid seeds do not come, we would be in a situation of emergency.” Without local seeds to fall back on, farmers have become more dependent on imported seeds – and in case of crop failure, a farmer who needs income to buy fresh seeds can face economic ruin.It’s also worrying researchers looking at seed security in Nepal as well as in numerous other countries that mono-cropping and commercialisation is dramatically reducing not only seed security but also seed diversity! The genetic pool of seed material is getting steadily smaller as imported, typically hybrid seeds continue to drive out local seeds cultivated over centuries to yield under local conditions. The adaptability to changes in anything from pest types to weather changes is decreasing as variation in the seed-pool is much lower than in the past. There is still hope, though, for inherited, local seeds. The answer of donors like USAID to the whole issue of food security in Nepal is above all “more hybrid seeds” – most sold by corporate market players – as well as chemical input. But meanwhile, poor small-scale farmers not least in more remote parts of the country, who cannot afford to buy and use imported seeds, preserve much of what’s left of Nepal’s local seeds simply because they keep using them. In fact, also globally it’s poor small-scale farmers who keep local seeds and traditional seed management systems alive. Writes a Penn State geographer: “As much as 75 percent of global seed diversity in staple food crops is held and actively used by a wide range of small farmholders, with the rest in gene banks.” Is there a “gene bank” for local seeds in Nepal? Well, like in many other countries today there is a number of them! They are local facilities known as “community seed banks”, rather than a few centralised vaults, but they do exist. Many of these community seed banks are maintained by local people, several with INGO assistance, and the last count turned up a total of 115 seed banks across the country. In other words, there still are local seeds to fall back on, not only thanks to poor, small-scale farmers but also to these more organised seed storage facilities.
What, then, will promote seed security – and ultimately food security – in Nepal the most: inherited, local varieties nurtured in the community – or imported, hybrid seeds? Well, fifteen years ago Timsina had no doubt about the best way ahead in the long term: to preserve, use and develop local seeds. But the right answer is of course only for time to reveal.
Read Timsinas full article, Loosing Traditional Seed Management Systems: A Threat to Small Farmers’ Food Security in Nepal, for more details.