Blog: Mobilizing crop diversity for climate change adaptation

Crop diversity in the community seed bank of Gumbu, South Africa. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R.Vernooy

ISSD Africa partners are compiling a number of case studies that explore the conditions in which crop diversification can result in positive livelihood outcomes, such as food and nutritional security, income generation and good health.

Edited by Ronnie Vernooy, Alliance Bioversity Int. & CIAT and ISSD Africa Topic Lead, Agrobiodiversity, Seeds & Climate Change

Photo: Crop diversity in the community seed bank of Gumbu, South Africa. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R.Vernooy

Climate change and crop and varietal diversity
In most agricultural farming systems, farmers continue to rely to a very large degree on farmer managed seed systems. They depend on their own farm-saved seed, community seed saving practices, social seed exchange and seed purchased at nearby markets or from petty vendors. Improved varieties do not always reach farmers. Improved varieties can also often not compete with the local diversity, which is better adapted to the harsh conditions and local needs in many agricultural environments in Africa.

However, the potential of local diversity is not always well understood, and with rural populations becoming older and youngsters migrating to urban areas, knowledge on agrobiodiversity is disappearing. The implications as well as opportunities of the feminization of agriculture on agrobiodiversity and local seed systems are not clear yet. Although some international and regional seed and seed related agreements exist (e.g. CBD/Nagoya Protocol and ITPGRFA, COMESA seed harmonization agreement), national governments and key agricultural organizations (e.g. NARS, gene banks, universities), as key actors in seed sector development, often have limited capacity to implement these agreements. Other policy and legal challenges also exist: how to develop effective and fair regulatory systems for smallholder access to benefits derived from the use of genetic resources? Moreover, the space for multi-stakeholder collaboration and exchange of germplasm and related knowledge at national and regional levels is often limited.

In recent years, a number of international initiatives have piloted various forms of support for novel configurations of actors to work together to conserve and use agrobiodiversity in sustainable agricultural production systems and to equitably share benefits derived from those activities. These configurations operate at farm, community, national and international levels. Among these initiatives, Bioversity International (now the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT) and partners have researched the effectiveness of using agrobiodiversity, in particular in the form of crop and crop variety diversity, as an adaptive practice. The hypothesis informing this research is that crop diversification can result in positive livelihood outcomes, such as food and nutritional security, income generation and good health. These outcomes, in turn, could lead to (increased) resilience of rural households and communities to environmental, socio-economic and climatic shocks.

In this working paper, we present a number of case studies that to a certain extent have “delivered” on this impact pathway. The case studies were compiled during the year 2020, the year that COVID-19 spread across the globe with devastating consequences for countries, communities and households everywhere.

The Working Paper is currently being finalised and will be shared on www.issdafrica.org

Find out more on the ISSD Africa topic on Agrobiodiversity, Seeds and Climate Change