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The governance of seed systems: Key to new and useful genetic variation


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Presentation given by Bioversity senior scientist Mauricio R. Bellon, Montpellier, France, Sept 2011. A look at seed systems using a recent study of maize in Mexico as an example.

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The governance of seed systems: Key to new and useful genetic variation

  1. 1. The governance of seed systems: Key to new and useful genetic variation Mauricio R. Bellon Bioversity International Invited presentation at the Colloque FRB “Les Ressources Génétiques face aux nouveaux enjeux environnementaux, économiques et sociétaux.” Montpellier, France, September 22, 2011
  2. 2. The seed (planting material) <ul><li>The most important input for agriculture </li></ul><ul><li>Both an input and an output </li></ul><ul><li>Seeds have private and public characteristics and values: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>private, those that cannot be consumed by two farm households at once, grain, fodder and other traits produced in each farm household’s crop </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>public, those related to its genetic attributes, including its contribution to genetic diversity, and occur at different scales from local to global </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Seed systems <ul><li>The different ways farmers obtain seed through time and space </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Transactions: sale, barter, gift, loan, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social relations: family, friends, strangers, commercial agents, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Information & knowledge: on identity, traits, performance, origin, variability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rules: who can get seed and under what circumstances </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social structures that enforce the rules </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Practices: how seed is kept, selected, transported </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. The public value of seed systems <ul><li>The structure and functioning of seed systems fundamental to understand, maintain and influence the generation of useful genetic variation in agricultural systems (public value) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Influence which alleles and genotypes pass from one generation to the next </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Influence the movement of and location where a crop is planted and hence the specific natural selection pressures it is exposed to </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Foster gene flow </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. “ Traditional” seed systems <ul><li>Historically seed systems have been: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the hands of farmers and communities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Open : seed can come in and out of the system, farmers incorporate, keep, discard and share seed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Decentralized : farmers and communities make different and independent decisions in multiple locations, environments and situations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Local : the spatial scope of the system can be quite local, but can include long distances flows </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. “ Traditional” seed systems (con’t) <ul><li>Usually governed by cultural norms—reciprocity, fairness, for example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Seed should not be sold </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only “good” farmers can get seed </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Based on family and local social networks </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But can include village markets, strangers and the formal seed system </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Include experimentation and allows innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Private and public characteristics and benefits of seed closely linked </li></ul>
  7. 7. Source: Bellon et al. PNAS 2011 Maize agro-climatic environment WL DL WUMA H Total General characteristics No. of seed lots (SL) 177 47 62 318 604 SL of landraces (%) 98.3 97.9 98.4 97.5 97.9 Average no SL/farmer 1.3 1.2 1.6 1.8 1.5 *¶ SL saved by farmer (%, 2003) 75.7 85.1 82.3 72.6 75.5 If not saved, obtained from family, friends, neighbors 88.1 85.7 100.0 85.1 87.0 Number of years that a SL is saved 10.0 10.0 15.0 8.0 10.0 ‡§ SL obtained outside community historical 13.0 12.8 4.8 28.6 20.4 †¶ SL obtained outside community 2003 1.7 0.0 0.0 6.6 3.7 †¶ SL provided to other farmers 2002 25.4 23.4 29.0 18.2 21.9 SL provided outside the community 2002 1.7 4.3 0 3.8 2.8 Farmers who experimented (%) 19.3 22.5 12.5 34.1 25.6 †¶ Number of experimental SL (historical) 30 13 5 79 127 Experimental SL of improved varieties 10 4 1 4 19 Experimental SL retained 6 1 0 9 16 SL of improved varieties retained 2 1 0 0 3
  8. 8. Source: Bellon et al. PNAS 2011
  9. 9. “ Modern” seed systems <ul><li>Last hundred years, but especially last fifty, “modern” seed systems appear </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the hands of plant breeders and seed companies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Driven by profits, specialization and economies of scale </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Commercial transactions and homogenized products </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>De-linking of the public and private characteristics and benefits of seed </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. “ Modern” seed systems (con’t) <ul><li>Closed by design: limited and regulated entrance and discard of seed </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus on the private characteristics of seed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Central to generate profits </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Centralized : relative few actors (seed enterprises) make decisions in a few locations, environments and conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Global : the spatial reach of a few seed enterprises is global </li></ul><ul><li>Although generate high productivity, may create excessive homogeneity over space and time </li></ul>
  11. 11. CIMMYT maize trial sites, derived from international testing trials database, in relation to rural poverty areas Source: Bellon, M. R., D. Hodson, D. Bergvinson, D. Beck, E. Martinez-Romero and Y. Montoya. 2005. Targeting agricultural research to benefit poor farmers: Relating poverty mapping to maize environments in Mexico. Food Policy 30: 476-492 Trial Sites Outside Poor Areas (n = 149) Trial Sites Within Poor Areas (n = 9)
  12. 12. Distribution of latest maize collections in Mexico Data: Proyecto Global de Maices Nativos, CONABIO
  13. 13. Conclusions <ul><li>“ Traditional” seed systems due to their openness, decentralization and local scope may produce new and useful variation in unpredictable ways (public benefit) central to adapt to change </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But associated with poverty and underdevelopment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Of limited use and value at the global level </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Conclusions <ul><li>“ Modern” seed systems deliver high productivity (private benefit) but may have limited capacity to adapt to change due to excessive centralization and homogeneity </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Rely on past accumulated genetic variation (mining approach) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Need both </li></ul><ul><li>Need to create mechanisms that foster their coexistence and to link them </li></ul><ul><li>From a mining approach to a renewable approach in the use of genetic variation </li></ul>
  15. 15. Conclusions <ul><li>If “traditional” seed systems produced new and useful genetic variation in unpredictable ways then important to maintain </li></ul><ul><li>For global benefits to be realized need a global information system that monitors evolution and adaptation and makes new variation available </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not only genetic erosion </li></ul></ul><ul><li>This can be hampered or fostered by international regimes that attempt to regulate plant genetic resources </li></ul>