By Niranjan Pudasaini and Rita Gurung

Community Seed Banks (CSBs) are emerging as a collective farmers’ institutions for local seed security, conservation of agrobiodiversity and supporting farmers’ livelihood. In order to understand the current status, gaps and progress made in CSBs in Nepal and devise ways for its mainstreaming, sustainability, networking and building capacity of farmers for conservation and use of agrobiodiversity, the Second National Workshop on Community Seed Bank was successfully organized from 3rd to 5th May 2018 in Kupondole, Nepal. It was jointly organized by National Agriculture Genetic Resource Centre (NAGRC), LI-BIRD and Bioversity International with financial support of New Field Foundation, Global Environment Facility (UNEP-GEF), the Development Fund, Norway and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The theme of workshop was “Community seed banks for safeguarding agro-biodiversity and supporting livelihoods”. The farmers representing 21 different CSBs from east to west, and from high mountains of Humla and Jumla to mid hills and lowland of  terai such as Kanchanpur and Jhapa participated in this workshop, and also brought along seed samples of local crops being conserved at their CSBs. The programme was attended by governmental agencies’ key personnel from Ministry of Agriculture, Land Management and Cooperative (MoALMC), Seed Quality Control Centre (SQCC), Crop Development Directorate (CDD), National Agricultural Research Council (NARC), CSBs and CSB Network, and developmental organizations such as Oxfam, ActionAid and CoPPADES working in field of agrobiodiversity conservation and promotion through community seed bank approach. The inaugural session of the workshop was chaired by Dr. Baidhya Naath Mahto, Executive Director of NARC, and Dr. Yubak Dhoj GC, Secretary of MoALMC was the Chief Guest of the event.

Chief guest Dr. Yubak Dhoj GC (Secretary of MoALMC) inaugurating the workshop by putting seeds in a vault symbolizing the collective conservation work. Photo: Pitambar Shrestha, LI-BIRD.

In his welcome speech, Dr. Min Nath Poudel, Chief of NARC Genebank, highlighted the scope of CSB in the changed local governance context to ensure on-farm conservation of local crops/landraces. He further emphasized relevance of this event on strengthening CSB approach in a collaborative way. Similarly, Dr. Yubak Dhoj GC stressed the contribution of CSB to combat against climate change impacts by securing seed availability, conservation of valuable and climate resilient genes and associated farmers knowledge and its contribution on research and development. Meanwhile he also admired the efforts of farmers, NARC-Gene Bank, Bioversity and LI-BIRD in bringing CSB approach to its present stage. He has also shown his commitment on behalf of the Ministry to provide full support for CSB’s development and mainstreaming it in national plans and programmes in days to come. 

Different experts and stakeholders presented a total of 10 papers which focused on status of CSB activities, gaps, challenges and issues, and  programmes and efforts on institutionalizing and sustaining CSB activities including key achievement and learning, approaches and mechanisms, national policies and programmes, and successful case stories. Dr. Devendra Gauchan highlighted about Access and Benefit sharing and farmers’ right on seeds while Mr. Anil Kumar Acharya shared about National legislation, guideline and programmes in regard to CSBs and ways for its institutionalization. Dr. Bal Krishna Joshi presented on the national genebank’s strategy for CSBs management in Nepal. Mr. Pitambar Shrestha presented about the status and contribution of CSBs in conservation and seed production based on LI-BIRD’s work while Mr. Bharat Bhandari shared about the CSB experience based on Local Crop Project’s learning and shared possible ways of sustainability highlighting new approach “Diversity Field School” as an integrated part of CSB. Dr. Ronnie Vernooy presented about the global status of CSBs and admired achievements made by Nepal in CSB and also praised the availability of such forums and willingness of governmental officials to participate in them which has enabled all key actors to come together and suggest way out for further development of CSB and ultimately contributing to the conservation and promotion of plant genetic resources and traditional knowledge.  

A female CSB practitioner from Shivagunj-Jhapa sharing her experiences and learnings. Photo: Pitambar Shrestha, LI-BIRD.

The major highlights of the workshop was farmers learning and experience sharing session where the farmer shared about challenges and constraints faced by them during CSBs implementation along with achievements. Almost all the CSBs highlighted the sustainability and lack of support from governmental agencies as major issue, and emphasized that mainstreaming CSB in local development programmes could be a way out. In the same line, Mr. Ram Ekbal Yadav, Chairperson of National CSB network, stressed that the role of CSB network was crucial for policy level advocacy of CSBs along with technical capacity building of ground level institutions in close coordination with National Gene Bank. 

Women farmers and CSB representatives from far-western regions and remote high mountain regions shared their happiness to participate in this national level discussion forum. Sharing her experience, Ms. Goma Bhandari from Masuriya, Kailali said, “I am usually shy to speak in front of few people. But, I am glad that I overcame my hesitation and spoke and shared my views and our CSB’s work in front of so many people.” Similarly, Ms. Rumfa Devi Upadhyaya from Chhipra, Kharpunath-4, Humla said, “In our place, no women is allowed to take part and speak in meeting like this. I am very grateful to the organizer for giving us this chance to participate and learn.”

Mr Sitaram Bajagain (Chairperson of Purkot CSB, Tanahu) joining the inaguration programme by adding diversity in a symbolic conservation vault. Photo: Pitambar Shrestha, LI-BIRD.

Series of group discussions drew conclusive recommendations and specific way forward which included identification of national organization for registration and monitoring of CSBs; legalization and support for CSBs and their national network; development of CSBs standards and their categorization; integration of agrobiodiversity programmes in regular activities of agricultural development programmes; and technical support and work in partnership with CSB on variety development/enhancement and registration and source seed maintenance. The other organization such as SQCC can help by facilitating the process of local variety registration in the name of CSB. The non-governmental organization can also work on documenting impact of CSBs, capacitating farmers and their institutions, and continue effort of linking local level organization with national institutions. These recommendations will be further synthesized and submitted to concerned agencies for further necessary action. 

Invitees/guests observing diversity display stalls exhibited by various CSBs during the workshop. Photo: Niranjan Pudasaini, LI-BIRD.

In a nutshell, the workshop provided an exposure and opportunity of learning and sharing for diverse stakeholders including farmers from all over Nepal and governmental stakeholders. This workshop is successful in providing a roadmap for mainstreaming CSB and working towards its sustainability.  

A group photo of workshop participants. Photo: LI-BIRD Photo Bank.