Fellowship on Practice and Policy on Commons

If you are interested in attending the forthcoming IASC2013 14th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons on the “Commoners and the Changing Commons: Livelihoods, Environmental Security, and Shared Knowledge” (see our recent post) you may also be interested in the Prof. Elinor Ostrom International Fellowship on Practice and Policy on Commons which could cover your participation and presentation at the conference.

Deadline for application is 31 October 2012.  Apologies for the short notice.


Rencontres Internationales Maisons des Semences Paysannes

Report by Elsa Andrieux

From 27-29 September 2012, in Périgueux in the Dordogne, France, 275 participants gathered to share experiences about farmers’ collective efforts to conserve farmers’ seeds. The gathering was organized by a number of French non-government organizations including AgroBio Périgord, Bio d’Aquitaine, le Beau Germe, le Centre d’Etude et Terre d’Accueil des Blés, Réseau Semences Paysannes (Network of Farmers’ Seeds) and Biodiversité : Echanges et Diffusion d’Expériences (BEDE). Among the participants were a large number of representatives of French farmers’ organizations and citizens’ networks concerned about the conservation of plant genetic resources, the survival of farmers’ efforts to produce, reproduce and distribute seeds, and the promotion of organic farming. Also present were several farmer plant breeders, known in French as “artisans semenciers” (literally, seeds artisans) and researchers from France’s National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA).

Photo by Elsa Andrieux

From farther away –including Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Mali, Roumania, Senegal, Spain and Togo– came members of organizations working with farmers on seeds as well as farmers themselves, in particular, involved in community seed banks. Two plenary sessions offered various organizations to explain about their origin, objectives and functioning. The rest of the time of the conference was organized in smaller workshops on technical and policy issues, and field visits. The gathering was an opportunity to discuss among different actors the models of collective action regarding the conservation of plant genetic resources and agricultural biodiversity. A topic of much debate was the rights of farmers to produce, conserve and exchange seeds. A few of the highlights of the gathering are presented below.

France: Community seed bank pioneers

Bio d’Aquitaine set up a “Maison de la semence” (literally, seed house) community seed bank in 2000. Right now there are 300 farmers involved in the initiative aimed to conserve traditional maize and sun flower varieties. Each member commits to conserve one variety in an isolated plot on their own farm. Every year, the network requests farmers to multiply one variety and replenish the seed bank with at least the same quantity of seeds they received. The network has built a physical “maison de la semence” (community seed bank) to stock the seed collection of traditional varieties. The network also maintains, in collaboration with INRA, an experimental plot where roughly a hundred of maize varieties are monitored. The purpose is to showcase the different varieties to farmers. At the same time, INRA and farmers are carrying out some participatory plant breeding work.

Photo By Elsa Andrieux

France: Pétanielle and the farmer-bread bakers

Pétanielle is a network in the Haute-Garonne that works for the conservation of traditional wheat varieties. The 120 farmers and gardeners who are part of the network conserve and grow different wheat varieties of which 15 are used by farmer-bakers to make and sell traditional breads. Varieties are conserved in different environments in order to assess adaptation to changing conditions. The network also carries out participatory plant breeding activities in collaboration with INRA.

Brazil: Microbacias 2 and AsPTA, and “the seeds of passion”

Microbacias 2 is a government program by the State of Santa Catarina to promote agroecological practices and the conservation of maize varieties. Every year, a fair of traditional varieties is organized at State level to exchange and promote local (“creole”) varieties. In 2011, 5000 people attended the fair. Community seed banks have not been set up; instead, farmer household conserve traditional varieties at home. AsPTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia is a non-government organization active in the promotion of sustainable and collective management of natural resources. In the region of Paraiba, AsPTA developed a program to support local varieties known as “seed of passion.” Varieties are conserved in thousands of family gene banks. Family gene banks are supported by community seed banks that serve to store seeds in larger quantities. The network of gene/seed banks receives government support and plays an important role in the public sector by providing seeds to schools and hospitals.

India: Deccan Development Society (DDS) and the women seed custodians

DDS works with 5000 small-holders and marginal farmers to promote farmers’ seeds and food security at the community level. So far, 55 community seed banks have been set up to stock and exchange seeds. Women community seed keepers conserve seeds at home: 50 summer and 40 winter cultivars. Through an analysis of the practices of seeds custodians at village level, DDS has learned about the diverse determinants for farmers to decide on the kind of varieties to conserve. Factors include taste, labor requirements, storability, soil fertility, commercial potential, crop duration, social and cultural meaning, and pest and disease resistance.

New guidelines on access and benefit-sharing for scientists working with crop genetic resources

More and more often, research and development projects emphasize the need to adopt appropriate practices when accessing and using crop germplasm and related information. However, scientists do not always have the tools that can facilitate a transparent communication with providers and further users of genetic resources and associated information, and which can guarantee the sharing of benefits between all of them in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

With the aim of addressing this gap, Bioversity has recently published a book of guidelines called Guidelines: Access and Benefit Sharing in Research Projects. This publication is based on the experience gained during the implementation of the Project “In situ/On farm Conservation and Use of Agricultural Biodiversity (Horticultural Crops and Wild Fruit Species) in Central Asia”, funded by UNEP-GEF and coordinated by Bioversity International.

These guidelines describe the type of agreements that can be used in different contexts and the most relevant provisions to be included in such agreements. They also provide models of agreements that can be adapted to particular situations. Their primary audience are scientists working with crop genetic resources and related traditional knowledge in research organizations, but they can also be useful for authorities involved in legislative processes on the matter, and for local populations who participate in research and development projects dealing with the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity.

We would like to request followers of this blog who collect, use and exchange crop germplasm and related information to send us their feedback on the usefulness of the guidelines, as well as their suggestions on how to improve them.

Access and benefit sharing debated

First session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Ad Hoc Technical Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing for Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

FAO CGRFA Working Group on ABS, Svalbard, Norway, 11-13 September 2012. Credit: R Vernooy/Bioversity

Report by Ronnie Vernooy

From 11-13 September 2012, about 60 delegates and observers came together in the town of Longyearbyen, Norway – better known as  the location of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – to review and discuss appropriate access and benefit sharing modalities and measures for genetic resources for food and agriculture in a number of sub-sectors (forest, animal, aquatic, micro-organisms and invertebrates).   Continue reading

Plant genetic resources and the theory of the commons

For centuries, farmers have managed planting materials based on relatively open collective systems of access, exchange, conservation and use. Mostly, farmers themselves defined the rules that have kept materials flowing. Over time, however, the plant genetic resources systems, rules and actors have changed considerably. One conceptual approach to study issues related to these changes and the challenges they have brought about, is known as theory of the commons. Until very recently, the study of the commons focused largely on natural resources other than plant genetic resources; best known through the work of Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012). Interest in plant genetic resources as (global) commons is gaining more ground, however, as two forthcoming conferences and one forthcoming book indicate. Continue reading

Training course on PGR strategies and policies

The international training course “Contemporary approaches to genetic resources conservation and use” provides state-of the art insight into various PGR management strategies and relevant policies.   The course is devoted to analyzing PGR and their impact on their conservation and sustainable use. It aims to support policy makers and other stakeholders in the implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The course is organized by Wageningen University, 15 April – 3 May 2013. The deadline for applications is 15 March 2013.  See course website.