Celebrating the life of Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi

Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

By Michael Halewood

We are writing this blog post to celebrate the life of Jean Rwihaniza Gapusi, who passed away in September 2016.

A number of us at Bioversity got to know Jean over the course of six years of working together on the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative. Jean was the national team coordinator for the project in Rwanda.  He was also, over the course of his career, a Project Officer at  ASARECA; a Senior Research Fellow in Tree Seed Centre; the Curator of Rwanda National Gene bank (RNGB); Head of Station for the Rwanda Agriculture Board; and a researcher at the Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique. He was the Rwanda National Focal Point for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and also the National Focal Point for access and benefit sharing issues under the Convention on Biological Diversity. He was also a teacher, a pastor, a husband and a father of eight children.

Jean immediately impressed people with his generous, calm, open manner. One felt immediately at home in his presence, even though he was someone with a great deal of seniority, and professional gravitas.  He was wise, insightful, fun, sensitive, … even noble. Noble is not a word one hears used much these days to describe people, but it fits Jean.

I personally got to spend many, many hours with Jean, bouncing around in his truck, driving to distant project sites across Rwanda. And we met in many places around the world at conferences, negotiations and project governance meetings. He was informed and passionate about his country, especially the farmers and local natural resource managers.  He cared deeply about Rwanda, about Africa, about rural development, combating poverty and injustice. He was exceptionally serious about making the world a better place but managed to treat the rest of us to his light, warm, rolling sense of humour as he pursued that goal.

Jean was an excellent research partner and leader. He took a ‘big tent’ approach that was open and inclusive, drawing people into activities, getting the best out of them, making room for more junior partners, spending time to develop their skills, ultimately building teams that were greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Jean was a great man. We will miss him.

Jean with Michael Halewood and Leontine Crisson. Leontine spent 6 months working with Jean in Rwanda on the GRPI2 project.

Jean with Michael Halewood and Leontine Crisson. Leontine spent 6 months working with Jean in Rwanda on the GRPI2 project.

GRPI2 first project planning meeting, 6-10 February 2012, Rome, Italy. Jean is in the second row from the front, third from the left in the pink shirt. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

GRPI2 first project planning meeting, 6-10 February 2012, Rome, Italy. Jean is in the second row from the front, third from the left in the pink shirt. Credit S. Landersz/Bioversity International.

Participatory research and capacity building: climate resilience and seeds in Zambia

Identifying suitable germplasm for the future

By Gloria Otieno, Bioversity International and Charles Nkhoma, Community Technology Development Trust

Photo by: Annie Chikanji, Biodiversity Conservation Network

Maize varieties at the community seed fair in Chikankata, Zambia

Maize varieties at the community seed fair in Chikankata, Zambia. Photo credit: A Chikanji.

Farmers in most parts of Zambia report changes in climate and weather patterns including unpredictable rains; shifting and shortening of the growing season; increases in temperatures; and longer dry spells. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) What’s in it for Africa? southern Africa has experienced an increase in annual average, maximum and minimum temperatures since the early 1990s with the most significant warming occurring during the last two decades.  Minimum temperatures have risen more rapidly compared to maximum temperatures over inland southern Africa (IPCC AR5). In Zambia where maize is the staple food crop, production of maize is predicted to decrease by up to 20% in some places by 2050 under such temperature and precipitation scenarios (Schlenker & Lobell, 2010, Robust negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, Vol 5, No 1).  One adaptation strategy is to identify varieties of maize that can withstand these temperature and precipitation changes as well as the shortening of the growing season. Another strategy is to switch to more resilient crops such as millets and sorghum.

To build capacity, Bioversity International, in collaboration with Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zambia, organized a five day training workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, 24th-28th August 2015, on resilience of seed systems and adaptation to climate change, bringing together scientists, breeders, Geographic information system (GIS) specialists, climate change specialists and extension workers. Two communities, Chikankata and Rufunsa, were identified by CTDT, based on their vulnerability to climate change and reduction in productivity over the last couple of years. An analysis of their weather and climate was done using meteorological data and predictions of 2050s climate. According to the analysis, the two communities are already experiencing shorter growing seasons, unpredictable rainfall and longer dry spells. Predictions for the 2050s indicate a general increase in mean temperatures by 1 degree Celsius, a relatively shorter growing season and a slight increase in precipitation. GIS and climate modelling techniques were used to identify climate challenges in the two communities and identify suitable maize and sorghum varieties from the national genebank as well as the international collections already in the multilateral system of the Plant Treaty.

Through participatory exercises and a visit to a community seed fair in Chikankata (see photo), local diversity within the community was assessed to determine whether these meet the community’s needs. Traits that are required and preferred for present and future climate change adaptation were also identified. An assessment of local diversity of maize reveals that there are three local maize varieties that have promising traits in terms of early maturity, taste, high yielding and resistance to pests and diseases. Sources for accessions of sorghum and maize were found by searching through national genebank accessions and international sources such as GENESYS (global portal to information about Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture). These can now be tested with farmers to compare their performance with local promising varieties.  See map below showing areas with similar temperatures (minimum and maximum) in 2050s and the selected accessions from those areas.

Maps showing areas with similar temperatures (minimum and maximum) in 2050’s and the selected accessions from those areas.

Maps showing areas with similar temperatures (minimum and maximum) in 2050’s and the selected accessions from those areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For further information about capacity building for resilient seed systems visit http://bit.ly/seeds-resource-box.

Participatory research and capacity building: climate resilience and seeds in Zimbabwe

By Gloria Otieno, Bioversity International and Patrick Kasasa, Community Technology Development Trust

Photos by:  Tinashe Sithole, Community Technology Development Trust

Assessing local diversity in the Chibika Community seedbank, Zimbabwe

Assessing local diversity in the Chibika Community seedbank, Zimbabwe

Global climate change raises major concerns for developing countries. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) What’s in it for Africa? Africa’s climate is changing and the impacts are already being felt. Southern Africa has experienced an increase in annual average, maximum and minimum temperatures. The most significant warming has been during the last two decades. Minimum temperatures have risen more rapidly compared to maximum temperatures over inland southern Africa. In Zimbabwe and Zambia there have been modest decreases in rainfall. Seasonal rainfall patterns, such as the onset and duration of rains, frequency of dry spells and intensity of rainfall have changed. More frequent dry spells, coupled with more intense daily rainfall, over a shorter period of time have seen a shortening of the growing season. For example in some districts of Zimbabwe, research and meteorological reports indicate that the rainy days have reduced from 32 days to 28 days in a span of two years. The impact of this will be largely felt in the agricultural sector where climate change is likely to affect agricultural output leading to food insecurity and loss of livelihoods for rural farmers. One of the longer term adaptation strategies is to identify germplasm that is suited and adaptable to the changing climate both at present and in the future.

Participatory exercise in the Uzumba-Maranga–Pfumbwe district of Zimbabwe.

Participatory exercise in the Uzumba-Maranga–Pfumbwe district of Zimbabwe.

In view of this, Bioversity International, in collaboration with the Community Technology Development Trust of Zimbabwe (CTDT), organized a training workshop, in Harare, 11-15 May 2015, on resilience seed systems and adaptation to climate change, bringing together more than 20 scientists, breeders, GIS specialists, climate change specialists and extension workers. At the workshop, participants learned GIS and climate modelling techniques to identify climate challenges in selected communities in the Uzumba-Maranga–Pfumbwe (UMP) and Tsholotsho districts in Zimbabwe and further identify germplasm that could be used in the future. Participants also visited a community seedbank in UMP and conducted participatory exercises to identify climate challenges; assess local diversity within the community and determine whether these meet their needs; and identify traits that they need for present and future climate change adaptation.

Figure 2: Map showing areas with similar temperatures (minimum and maximum) in 2050 and the selected accessions from those areas (using DIVA-GIS crop suitability modelling).

Figure 2: Map showing areas with similar temperatures (minimum and maximum) in 2050 and the selected accessions from those areas (using DIVA-GIS crop suitability modelling).

Results from the exercises reveal that these communities are facing increased minimum and maximum temperatures and shorter rainy days. An analysis of 2050 climate using one climate model – DIVA-GIS crop suitability modelling – also reveals that mean, minimum and maximum temperatures will increase and although rainfall will increase slightly, it is likely to be more erratic with shorter rainy days (see Figure 2). Farmers identified the following traits, in order of importance, as some of the characteristics that they would want to see in a variety being bred for future climates: 1) early maturing; 2) high yielding and 3) resistant to pests and diseases.
By looking at accessions from national genebanks and international sources such as GENESYS (global portal to information about Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), the group identified accessions of finger millet, sorghum and pearl millet which will now be tested with farmers.

Participants in the training workshop on resilience seed systems and adaptation to climate change, 11-15 May 2015, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Participants in the training workshop on resilience seed systems and adaptation to climate change, 11-15 May 2015, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Securing crop diversity for climate change adaptation: creating policy space for Nepal to participate in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing

by Michael Halewood, Madan Bhatta, Bal K. Joshi, Chiranjibi Bhattarai and  Devendra Gauchan

Under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, national multi-stakeholder research teams in 8 countries (Nepal, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso) are engaging in novel research activities  to use  crop diversity to adapt to climate changes. With support from the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative, they are combining high resolution climate data, with data on crop suitability, geographic information, and genebank accession collection coordinates to identify crop genetic resources that are (possibly) adapted to the climatic conditions in vulnerable sites in those 8 countries. (Some of these activities have been reported in other blog posts). The teams then seek to acquire the identified germplasm, working through the applicable policies and laws that govern access to those resources both domestically and abroad. Lessons learned help policymakers identify mechanisms to ensure future access to and supply of such materials.  Not surprisingly, much of this policy-related work ends up focusing on developing means for national actors to participate in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing created by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Through the multilateral system, countries can pool and share crop genetic diversity for the purposes of agricultural research, crop breeding, and conservation. Increased climate variability and migrating climates are increasing the value of access to crop diversity as a source of genetically-based adaptation.

National Agrobiodiversity Committee considers policy reforms to make space for multilateral system

National Agrobiodiversity Coordination Committee considers reforms to make policy space for operation of the multilateral system

Nepal is currently mid-way through the process of making policy reforms to implement the ITPGRFA. Nepal acceded to the ITPGRFA in 2009, after it had approved the Nepal Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2002 (NBSAP) and Agrobiodiversity Policy (2007). The NBSAP sets national priorities regarding the use and conservation of biological resources and benefit sharing; the Agrobiodiversity Policy addresses conservation and use of agrobiodiversity in particular. Since both instruments predate Nepal’s accession to the ITPGRFA, their treatment of access and benefit sharing is oriented to implementing  the Convention on Biological Diversity, putting systems in place whose primary focus are to prevent unauthorized access to genetic resources, and set up systems to negotiate benefit sharing agreements. For Nepalese organizations and individuals to be able to pool and share crop genetic resources through the multilateral system, it is considered necessary to revise the NBSAP and the Agrobiodiversity Policy to make policy space and provide direction to implement the ITPGRFA in harmony with the CBD. (The revisions also promote supporting community based agrobiodiversity management, in situ and on farm conservation and the function of the newly formed national genebank.) In 2012–13, a national multistakeholder team revised both policies. The draft revised Agrobiodiversity Policy was submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture Development for consideration in 2013. If the Minister accepts the draft, he will introduce it to Cabinet in 2014 for adoption. The revised NBSAP will be submitted to the Minister of Forest & Soil Conservation in 2014. The research teams anticipate having systems in place for participation in the multilateral system by the end of 2014.

Small community, great visions

Earlier this year, Pitambar Shrestha, Ronnie Vernooy and Inger Haugsgjerd visited the east of Nepal to learn more about community seeds banks. Inger reports about the visit. 

Story by Inger Haugsgjerd

In a small ward of the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Tamaphok in the eastern district of Sankhuwasabha , Nepal, we met a group of enthusiastic farmers and conservationists. A VDC is the lowest government administrative unit in Nepal. Despite new challenges constantly disturbing these farmers’ efforts to maintain and distribute seeds among the locals, they stick to the point.

Photo: Inger Haugsjerd

Photo: Inger Haugsgjerd

In the VDC, there is already a Community Seed Bank (CSB) which was built four years ago with technical and financial support from LI-BIRD (Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development). LI-BIRD facilitated the initiation of a Biodiversity Community Development Committee (BCDC) at both ward and village level like they have done with 30 other BCDC’s in 16 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In the process of establishing the CSB, the BCDC gave each of the nine wards of Tamaphok the responsibility of conserving a certain type of crop. This work led to an unforeseen encouragement of the people in ward number five. The topography of the area and the size of the VDC hinder easy collection, management and distribution of seed in the Community Seed Bank and some community members have to walk five hours to reach it. To overcome these constraints and meet the needs of ward five, a handful of eager farmers started their own Community Seed Bank with some support from the VDC level BCDC. In the beginning, diversity kits of gourd, pea, chilly and beans were distributed to the members. The CSB preserves and distributes cereal and vegetable seeds. The Community Seed Bank is particularly important for the purpose of storing vegetables that freeze during winter in the VDC level CSB. Continue reading

New book: Community seed banks in Nepal

In Nepal, community seed banks have a long and rich history. Supported in particular by a number of non-government organizations and more recently, also by government agencies, they can be found across the country from the lowland terai to the high hill areas and from east to west. The latest count puts the number of active community seed banks at 115. See, for an example, the story about the Jogimara community seed bank.

Co-editor Pashupati Chaudary presents the new book. Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Co-editor Pashupati Chaudhary presents the new book. Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

A new book published by LI-BIRD in collaboration with Nepalese partner agencies and Bioversity International, documents and reflects on the contributions of community seed banks to the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. The various contributions discuss conceptual, practical and policy issues concerning the establishment and management of community seed banks. Lessons learned from the experiences in Nepal will be useful for community seed banks globally. The book can be downloaded for free from the websites of LI-BIRD and Bioversity International.

Adapting to climate change: training workshop for teams of Bhutan and Nepal

By Pashupati Chaudhary, LI-BIRD, Nepal

Agrobiodiversity plays a pivotal role in securing food and nutrition and enhancing resilience of agriculture to climate change. As the climate is becoming more erratic and unpredictable than in the past, it has become increasingly difficult to properly manage agrobiodiversity to sustainably produce food. One of the challenges is the lack of scientific knowledge to predict climate dynamics in particular regions. Another challenge is to develop and deploy crop varieties that are adapted to changing climatic conditions. Climate Analogue Tool (CAT), a recently developed tool by partners of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme is a remarkable breakthrough in tackling this problem. CAT can identify a) future climate conditions of a particular location and sites that currently resemble these conditions (b) locations that currently have or in the future will have similar climate conditions, and c) locations that in the future will have current climate conditions of a particular place. Based on careful analyses done using the Climate Analogue Tool and supported by data from actual conditions in farmers’ fields, scientists can identify possible appropriate plant genetic resources, deploy suitable varieties, and develop new varieties for specific locations of interest.

Recently, the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative 2 project, led by Bioversity International, organized a three-day long training workshop on Climate Analogue Tools in order to enhance skills of Nepal and Bhutan project staff in analyzing, interpreting and presenting climate data. 18 scientists, managers, and development professionals representing government organizations, national research programs, gene banks and non-governmental organizations of both countries participated in the training that was facilitated by Bioversity International scientists.  Continue reading

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.

Launch of Mesoamerican PGRFA and climate change project

By Gea Galluzzi, Bioversity International, Cali, Colombia

One of the new projects approved by the ITPGRFA’s Benefit Sharing Fund aims to contribute to the formulation of a participatory and science-based strategic Action Plan to strengthen the conservation of plant genetic resources and their enhanced use in adapting to climate change in Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica is the region from the south of Mexico to Panama. It will be one of the worst affected regions by climate change (figures 1 and 2) and it is one of the cradles of crop domestication, including of globally important crops (maize, beans).

Figure 1. Top, expected percentage changes in annual rainfall by 2050. Figure 2. Below, expected changes in annual mean temperature by 2050. Maps: Bioversity International; data from Worldclim future downscaled GCM models CCCMA, HADCM3, and CSIRO under emission scenario A2.

The treasure of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) that the region holds is a potential source for adaptation for agro-ecoystems around the world (figure 3; relevant crop gene pools listed below). However, in order to realize this potential, regional PGRFA conservation and use need to be strengthened and integrated in wider policy agendas on climate change adaptation, disaster preparedness and food security.

Figure 3. Global relevance of the crops within the target genepools. Darker colours indicate areas of higher dependence on these crops. Map: Bioversity International; data from Monfreda et al., 2008.

The new project will support the design of a regional action plan for directing investments in climate relevant PGRFA research,  implementing PGRFA policies (especially those related to the ITPGRFA and its Multilateral System), and for integrating PGRFA in the wider policy agendas. It will also serve as a framework for donor investments. Proposed activities include a thorough revision and systematization of existing data on the regional in situ and ex situconservation of 10 priority crop gene pools (priority in terms of diversity and importance for food production, among others), of existing climate data and of policies and plans in place in the genetic resources, food security and disaster preparedness areas. The 10 crop gene pools are and selected crops are: Zea (Maize), Phaseolus (Beans), Manihot (Cassava), Ipomoea (Sweet potato), Cucurbita (Squash), Amaranthus (Amaranth), Capsicum (Pepper), Carica (Papaya), Persea (Avocado),Tripsacum (Gamagrass).

Extensive consultations will involve a wide range of stakeholders (from farmer groups to policy makers) in all phases, from data analyses to Plan validation and endorsement. The project will be executed by Bioversity International through its Regional Office for the Americas.