Grassroots breeding

What is grassroots breeding?

Grassroots breeding is a simple, effective and efficient method of plant breeding that strengthens farmers’ skills in seed production and marketing (Sthapit and Rao, 2009). It focuses, firstly, on pre-breeding through locating diversity, assessing trait, multiplying and making seed available with the objective of immediate use; and secondly, it addresses the enhancement of germplasm through simple selection techniques and the production of quality seed.

How it is done?

Grassroots breeding is a simple participatory method, which enhances the capability of the CBO and farmers to search existing local crop and tree diversity, select niche-specific plant material, multiply and produce sufficient quality seed and distribute it within the community. The method involves more than just crop improvement; it is a selection method, embedded in a much wider approach for associating conservation goals with livelihood development. As such farmers’ varieties are the fruits of many generations of observations, selection, exchange, and breeding by farmers and communities.

The method involves the

  • participatory rural appraisal (PRA) of on-farm local crop diversity
  • assessment of farmer-preferred traits to assess available variability
  • selection of preferred traits by farmer-breeders and scientific-breeders from the target environment (e.g. 50 to 100 best panicles from one farm in self pollinated)
  • community-based seed multiplication of selected varieties/plants
  • distribution of the seed/planting material
  • monitoring the use in terms of households, communities and area.

This type of plant breeding can be applied in situations where:

  • the production system is rich in intra-specific diversity and there is scope for selection from a sufficiently large populations, but
  • many individual farmers still have problems of access and availability of quality seed.

In fruit trees, scions of best fruit tree are used to graft in popular rootstocks.

Why grassroots breeding?

There will never be enough scientific plant breeders with sufficient institutional support to carry out plant breeding for all crops in all production environments. Global public resources and, increasingly, private funds are invested in the public breeding of major food security crops. The private sector is responsible for, and successful in, carrying out plant breeding for crops in which investments in breeding can be earned back through the sale of quality seed of improved commercial, and often hybrid and GMO varieties. Besides the major staple crops that are addressed by the public sector, and crops that are addressed by commercial seed companies (mainly maize and vegetables in Nepal), the main sources of food, nutrition and livelihoods of many millions of small-scale farmers originate from orphans fruit trees, indigenous vegetable and nutritionally dense and climate resilient crops that exist in their farms or surrounding areas.

For more information

Sthapit BR, Rao VR. 2009. Consolidating community’s role in local crop development by promoting farmer innovation to maximise the use of local crop diversity for the well-being of people. Acta Horticulturae 806. International Society for Horticultural Science. Leuven, Belgium. 739 pp.