Participatory research and capacity strengthening in East Africa – linking farmers, scientists and policy makers to use crop diversity for climate change adaptation

The threat of climate change has raised concern among scientists as well as farmers as crop growth, agricultural production and subsequently food security could be severely affected by changes in temperature and precipitation which are key to agricultural production.

Participatory research and capacity strengthening in East Africa took place in Uganda in September and involved teams from Uganda and Rwanda consisting of scientists, climate change specialists, GIS specialists, breeders and agricultural extension workers using GIS and other methods to identify germ plasm suited for future climate. As part of the training, scientists were involved in a visit to one of the local community gene banks in Kabwohe – Uganda. In addition, the scientists, using participatory approaches were able to discuss climate change and resilience with bean farmers from three communities in Uganda and Rwanda; and using participatory approaches, discuss and rank farmer varieties fro traits such as drought tolerance, resistance to pests and diseases, yields among others. The communities were from previously selected reference sites in Rwanda (Bugesera and Rubaya) and Uganda (Kabwohe) and two of these communities have community seed banks.  A CSB exchange visit was organized for members of the Rubaya community seed bank from Rwanda bank to visit Kabwohe community seed bank in Uganda for learning experiences as well as to discuss modalities for seed exchange among the two communities. The two gene banks were able to share with each other and with scientists their experiences in conservation and management of their bean diversity.

As a result of this exercise, the two countries have identified germ plasm for climate change adaptation within their  national gene bank collections which they are exchanging using the SMTA. Some of these germ plasm is already being subjected to trials in different agro-ecological zones i.e. in the reference sites. The research teams are also expanding their search for potentially adapted germ plasm to ex situ collections hosted by the CGIAR centers, USDA, and in European countries, and a database of variety evaluation trial results (Ag Trials). The accessions were clustered based on their different climatic variables and crops suitability mapping done to identify accessions that would be suitable for these areas in the year 2050 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Some accessions suitable in reference sites in 2050


In addition, through participatory methods with scientists, farmers were able to document their observed changes in climate and weather patterns; their coping mechanisms and the desired traits for germ plasm they would like to have in order to c help them to cope with vagaries of weather an climate. Furthermore farmers identified varieties within their gene banks and further classify them based on their traits, an exercise which facilitated farmer selection of climate resilient varieties for exchange. One emerging challenge is that these materials in community gene banks are not in the MLS and modalities for their exchange have to follow national laws within the two countries. As such these two community gene banks with the help of their respective National Agricultural Research Organizations are working modalities with which these farmers can exchange germ plasm.

 Figure 2: Scientists discuss with farmers their climate vulnerabilities