Course announcement: Contemporary approaches to genetic resources conservation and use

We the have pleasure to share the fellowship application for the international training course ‘Contemporary approaches to genetic resources conservation and use’ co-organized by the Centre for Development Innovation of Wageningen University and Research, and Bioversity International. The course will be held in Wageningen, the Netherlands, from 9-27 April 2018. Fellowship application deadline is 18 October, 2017.  For more information about the course, visit:


Information about fellowships and eligible countries:

To apply for a fellowship:

To register for the course:

Group work during the 2017 course. Photos: Bioversity International/R.Vernooy


Community seed banks: concept and practice. Facilitator handbook.

Over three decades, a number of international and national organizations have provided technical and financial support to community seed banks around the world. To our knowledge, only a few of these organizations have developed and published a practical guide about how they have offered this support. LI-BIRD is one such organization, but their community seed bank guide is in the Nepali language. To fill this gap, we offer this handbook, which is based on our own experience, but also takes into consideration what other colleagues have accomplished to advance research and capacity development regarding community seed banks. The handbook is organized as a guide for facilitators — people who work in the field with farmers and their organizations on issues of seed conservation and sustainable use.

The methodological approach that we promote is based on participatory learning, where facilitators and learners interact actively, make use of their experience, and learn together. Lecturing is kept to a minimum. Most of the learning takes place through dynamic exercises in which learners are invited to use and reflect on their own experience and/or on the experience of others (captured in practical case studies, for example). These experiences can cover any aspect of agricultural and rural development that involves farmers. You can find the handbook here:

The handbook is organized in nine modules, as follows: Continue reading

Implementing the Treaty in Nepal: new book

Joshi BK, P Chaudhary, D Upadhya and R Vernooy (editors). 2016. Implementing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Nepal: Achievements and Challenges. Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development, Pokhara, Nepal; Nepal Agricultural Research Council and Ministry of Agricultural Development, Kathmandu, Nepal; and Bioversity International, Rome, Italy.

This book, with contributions from national partners in Nepal and Bioversity International, documents the results of the research and capacity development efforts to implement the ITPGRFA in Nepal. Its chapters cover five main interrelated themes: national-level multi-lateral system policy development; policy actors and networks; germplasm flows and interdependence; farmers’ involvement; and technology transfer. ITPGRFA implementation in Nepal has made considerable progress, but the policy environment in Nepal could be further improved. A positive development is the drafting of new policy and legal instruments, such as the agro-biodiversity conservation and utilization act and regulations.


Co-editors BK Joshi and Ronnie Vernooy receive the first copy of the book. Photo: Bioversity International

The book can be freely downloaded.

Realizing farmers’ rights through community biodiversity management

Farming communities attending rewards (in-kind and social recognition) handover ceremony for successful conservation of rare quinoa varieties. Huataquita, Cabanillas District, San Román Province, Puno Region, Peru. Credit: Adam G. Drucker.

Farming communities attending rewards (in-kind and social recognition) handover ceremony for successful conservation of rare quinoa varieties. Huataquita, Cabanillas District, San Román Province, Puno Region, Peru. Credit: Adam G. Drucker/Bioversity International

 A community-based approach to the management of agricultural biodiversity, including supporting community seedbanks, can empower and benefit smallholder farmers and farming communities economically, environmentally and socially. This approach makes implementing farmers’ rights at national level both practical and effective contributing to food and seed security, sustainable livelihoods and resilience. 

Two new briefs show how this approach makes implementing farmers’ rights at national level both practical and effective contributing to food and seed security, sustainable livelihoods and resilience.

•    Realizing farmers’ rights through community-based agricultural biodiversity management
•    Supporting community seedbanks to realize farmers’ rights

These briefs have been submitted to the 2016 Global Consultation on Farmers Right, held in Bali, Indonesia, 27-30 September 2016.

Read more about this work.

Ximena Cadima, from Fundación PROINPA, Bolivia presenting her work on defining and identifying farmers who are good producers of native and traditional seed varieties and putting into place incentives for these farmers to continue operating at the Farmers Rights Consultation. Credit: R. Vernooy/Bioversity Interantional.

Ximena Cadima, from Fundación PROINPA, Bolivia presenting her work on defining and identifying farmers who are good producers of native and traditional seed varieties and putting into place incentives for these farmers to continue operating at the Farmers Rights Consultation. Credit: R. Vernooy/Bioversity International.


Ronnie Vernooy presenting on “Community seed banks around the world – preconditions for their success” at the Farmers Rights Consultation.

Ronnie Vernooy presenting on “Community seed banks around the world – preconditions for their success” at the Farmers Rights Consultation. Credit: Pitambar Shrestha/LI-BIRD

Access and benefit sharing of genetic resources: special issue of Farming Matters

A new special issue of Farming Matters, produced in collaboration with Bioversity International, focuses on how access and benefit sharing of plant genetic resources can work for family farmers.Cover_access and benefit sharing

Crop diversity is essential for family farmers. It provides a cost-effective way to improve productivity, manage crop pests and diseases and adapt to climatic and other shocks. It also provides diverse, healthy and nutritious diets. Farmers have safeguarded this rich biodiversity through saving, using, exchanging and selling seed and planting material.

The rights of farmers to continue to do so are at the core of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, an international agreement designed to facilitate the exchange of plant genetic resources. The Treaty also focuses on the right of farmers to participate in decision-making and in the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources and the need to protect traditional knowledge relevant to these resources. The effective implementation of the Treaty and other access and benefit-sharing agreements, however, represents challenges.

This special issue of Farming Matters, produced in collaboration with Bioversity International, provides examples of formal and informal access and benefit-sharing systems from Costa Rica, Brazil, Iran, China, Rwanda, Uganda and many more countries. The issue also explores the interface between the formal and the informal systems and highlights creative access and benefit-sharing arrangements that are effective for family farmers.

You can download the special issue or one or more articles from the following sites:

Ronnie Vernooy



Official opening and handing over of the Gumbu community seed bank, South Africa

On March 17, 20016, K.A. Tshikolomo (PhD, Pr. Sci. Nat), Director: Crop Production, Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, South Africa, addressed the more than 100 visitors to Gumbu village on the special occasion of the inauguration of the local community seed bank. His words in English and Venda were:

“Today’s Programme Director, Ms Noluthando Netnou-Nkoana- Director: Genetic Resources at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Dr Ronnie Vernooy- Genetic Resource Policy Specialist, Bioversity International, Rome, Italy; Dr Bhuwon Sthapit- Senior Scientist, Bioversity International- Nepal Office; Vhafuwi vha vhathu, Muhali Vho-Gumbu….Ndaa!; Distinguished guests; Farmers; Colleagues; Ladies and gentlemen… Greetings from the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and best wishes for this important event!

handover 1

Any meaningful talk on Community Seed Banks requires that they first be properly defined. Definition: ‘A Community Seed Bank (CSB) is much more than a bank for money, it is a bank for life-food’ – Woman farmer from Zimbabwe.

Kani-ha ri nga tou ri ndi bannga ya mbeu… kana ri ri ndi tshisiku tsha mbeu? …Aiwa, vha ri ndi tshisiku tsha zwiliwa zwa vhutshilo. Musi ri na tshisiku itshi vhutshilo vhu tea u leluwa.

A CSB is a seed saving initiative designed and implemented to conserve, restore, revitalize, strengthen and improve local seed systems, especially, but not solely focussed on local varieties. Seed saving initiatives have taken various forms and names: community gene bank, farmer seed house, seed hut, seed wealth centre, seed-savers group (association or network), community seed reserve, and seed library.

As the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, we would like to express our gratitude to Bioversity International for the funding of the Gumbu Community Seed Bank and for all the support provided. Also, we wish to express our appreciation to our mother department, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for identifying our Province, specifically the Mutale Municipality as a host for the initiative.

Gumbu collection 2015 and 2016

Important considerations for success of the Gumbu community seed bank

Considerations for the community seed bank itself:

-CSBs are local level institutions that contribute to seed conservation, in particular of local or farmer varieties, countering erosion of crop diversity or its loss following natural disasters and societal pressures (commercialisation, monopolisation of seed production).

-Though many CSBs were initially set up for the purpose of (1) conservation, additional functions were added over time: (2) providing access to and availability of seeds, operating as a platform for community development, and (3) contributing to seed and food sovereignty.

-CSBs provide an opportunity for interaction and integration of informal and formal seed systems, for the promotion of in-situ and ex-situ links to back up genetic resources locally as building blocks of crop improvement, food security and sustainable community development.

-CSBs should be competent and function well in terms of collection, documentation (information and traditional knowledge), regeneration, storage, distribution, and marketing of seeds of diverse local and improved varieties. Also important is introduction of latest technologies and management innovations.

-CSBs should cultivate partnerships and engage in networking and sharing of information and seeds with other informal and formal seed system actors. Some CSBs interact with researchers, extension and other development agents.

Ndi ngoho, u bvelela ha tshisiku itshi tsha Ha-Gumbu tsha vhutshilo zwi thoga uri:

Tshiimiswa itshi tshapo tshi shume zwavhudi kha u vhulunga mbeu uri ra sa xelelwe nga ifa ili lashu. Musi mbeu iyi yo vhulungwa, i a kona u wanala musi ri tshi i toda, nahone i ri fha vhudilangi ha ndisedzo ya zwiliwa;

Sa tshisiku, ri shumisane na zwinwe zwiimiswa uri mushumo washu u kone u vhonala, ri amba mushumo u ngaho u kuvhanganya na u vhulunga mbeu na lupfumo lwa ndivho-yapo, khathihi na u kovhekana na u rengisa mbeu iyi. Itali vhe’ munwe muthihi a u tusi mathuthu;

-Also, there is need for exploration of options for financial viability (funding, income generating activities), and equipping members with adequate technical knowledge. In some cases, research organisations, NGOs and developmental agents do provide technical and financial support.

-A CSB should develop niche outlets for local land races and farmer improved cultivars and strengthen the marketing of locally produced varieties.

-Successful CSBs must have effective governance and management structures, and these are formed by members of the seed banks.

A hu na inwe ndila, ri tea uri:

Ri vhe na ndila dza u kuvhanganya masheleni uri ri kone u ya phanda. Naho ri tshi nga lambedzwa zwashu nga zwinwe zwiimiswa, na rine vhane kha ri vhe na zwine ra ita, itali vhe’ hu vuswa I divusaho. Ri tea-ha u vha na mimaraga ine ra kona u isa mbeu yashu.

Ri pfumbudze mirado ya tshisiku itshi i vhe na ndivho na vhutsila ha u ita mishumo ine tshisiku itshi tsha tea u i swikela… i tshi nga vha mishumo ya zwa thekiniki kana ya vhuvhusi na vhulangi.

Women group of Gumbu CSB.jpg

Considerations for other players

-Success of CSBs is also influenced by such issues as infrastructure (roads, communication, etc), local culture, politics, occurrence of natural disasters, and civil unrests. Support to CSBs is therefore very necessary, be it from government, traditional authorities, political and other community structures.

-Well operational CSBs need recognition, and this can be in the form of: visits by officials, awards for special efforts and achievements, and invitations to important (policy) events. Recognition may include funding and other support by government and donor agencies.

Kha ri shumisane zwavhudi na muvhuso washu, mahosi…Muhali washu Vho-Gumbu vha re vhukati hashu, zwinwe zwisiku zwi re kha lashu, zwiimiswa zwa u sedzulusa (research) na zwa pfunzo, na mazhendedzi a mveledziso uri ri kone u bvelela.

Maintaining the spirit of hard work, commitment and discipline, keeping clear strategies for governance, management, and income generation, and establishing networks and linkages with all relevant stakeholders, Gumbu Community Seed Bank is bound to succeed… I declare the Gumbu Community Seed Bank officially opened, and I accordingly hand over this important facility to the community… I thank you.”

dance 2

Photos: Ronnie Vernooy/Bioversity International.

Climate change adaptation and mutually supportive implementation of access and benefit sharing policies in Uganda

By Gloria Otieno, John Wasswa Mulumba and Francis Ogwal

Climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and 4.3 ºC by the 2080s. Changes in annual rainfall patterns and total amount of annual rainfall are also expected. Uganda may become wetter on average. The increase in rainfall may be unevenly distributed in space and time influenced by more extreme or more frequent periods of intense rainfall. Besides changes in rainfall, changes in temperature are likely to have significant implications for agriculture, water resources, food security, and natural resource management.  Agriculture is likely to be one of the most affected sectors with repercussions on livelihoods of farmers, food security and the environment. The effects of climate change could threaten the survival of crop genetic resources and affect future adaptive capacity. If properly maintained, crop genetic resources will be essential to climate change adaptation in farmer’s fields and for breeding programs. A strategy for climate change adaptation is to ensure facilitated access to genetic resources at national and international levels through agreements such as the multilateral system of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and the CBD Nagoya protocol. The problem of the current germplasm exchange system is the potential limit on the amount of germplasm that farmers and plant breeders may access from both farmers fields and international and national centres that have ex situ collections due to the prevailing national and international policy and regulatory framework.

A strategy for adaptation to climate change using crop diversity and GIS modelling

Research by Bioversity international and the National Agricultural Research Organization’s Plant Genetic Resources center (NARO-PGRC) reveals that the diversity of genetic traits of crops represents our most important resource for adapting agriculture to the 21st century climate change. The high diversity within common bean in Uganda and East Africa can be used to adapt local farmers’ systems to climate change. Indeed, an important means for small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change is by shifting their crop varieties to those better suited to future environmental conditions. GIS-based selection of varieties is potentially a rapid and cost-effective way to find new and better adapted varieties. GIS tools can be used to search for varieties that have been collected in climatic conditions that are similar to the present and future climate conditions in a particular site.

Two communities, Hoima and Mbarara –Sheema district in Uganda, were identified by national partners as predominantly bean growing areas that are facing climate related stresses of increased temperature, shifting seasons and high erratic rainfall. Beans are the most important source of protein in the country. The projected climate in 2050 indicates that temperature and rainfall would increase on average by 1 to 1.5 degrees and 200mm per annum respectively. This means that new bean varieties would be required to allow communities to adapt successfully.

Based on simulations for these two communities, potentially adaptable bean varieties were identified in regional collections of beans held by CIAT and held by local communities in Uganda and Rwanda. Hoima at present has higher temperatures of between 23-27 degrees and precipitation of 700-1000 mm per annum. Nine potentially suitable accessions were identified from Ethiopia and Tanzania in the regional collections held by CIAT. 2050’s climatic conditions indicate increased temperatures and precipitation and using GIS based modeling, 29 accessions were identified from other parts of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Local community seed bank’s roles in adapting to climate change

In addition, through an exchange visit between two community seed banks in Uganda and Rwanda, local farmers in both countries were able to identify potentially suitable local varieties. Through participatory varietal ranking of the local varieties they are currently growing and conserving these varieties in the community seed banks based on traits such as yield, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, water logging, taste and cookability. The Kiziba community seed bank in Sheema Mbarara district in Uganda holding a repository of the community’s 47 varieties of beans provided about 10 potentially suitable varieties identified by farmers. These were requested by farmers in Hoima and in Rwanda. Farmers in Bugesera and Gicumbi districts in Rwanda identified 10 varieties of beans that are potentially suitable for climate related stresses. An exchange of these varieties was organized between the two communities by national institutions.

Implications for agricultural and mutually supportive implementation of access and benefit sharing policies

Given that the potentially adapted materials from the regional collections held by CIAT are automatically included in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing of the ITPGRFA, the exchange of varieties was facilitated through the use of SMTA. The varieties have been made available to the communities for testing on farm and on station, activities currently underway. This demonstrates and reiterates the importance of having facilitated access under the multilateral system. The varieties held by community seed banks are not automatically in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing. They could only be exchanged through negotiation with relevant institutions in consideration of the current Ugandan 2007 ABS law and regulations. These require that negotiations concerning prior informed consent and transfer of material take place between the two countries and their relevant institutions, in practice the Uganda national gene bank which is in charge of PGRFA for food and agriculture and is the focal point for the ITPGRFA; the Uganda national council for Science and Technology (UNCST) which is the competent Authority for both the ITPGRFA and the CBD/Nagoya protocol and the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) of Uganda which is the focal point for CBD/Nagoya protocol.

This required a lengthy process in which institutions had to discuss who has the mandate to provide the requested germplasm under which conditions. Unfortunately, the existing policies and guidelines on ABS did not provide clear roles and mandates for institutions. Alternatively, the relevant institutions could have provided incentives for voluntary inclusion of these materials by communities in the multilateral system so that farmers in communities in Rwanda would be able to access them. Under the 2007 ABS law and regulations it seemed very difficult to realize this. Institutions in Uganda therefore decided to review the existing ABS regulations.

A need for mutually supportive implementation of ABS and recent policy developments

Uganda is a Party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Having deposited instruments of accession on 25 March 2003, Uganda is obliged to provide facilitated access to genetic resources of 64 crops and forages that are under the management and control of the national government, and in the public domain. In return, Ugandan organizations and individuals are entitled to facilitated access to PGRFA of the same 64 crops held by the other 133 Treaty member states as part of the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing. The process of national level Treaty implementation and domestication in Uganda has been going on since 2003, necessitating both institutional and collaborative efforts to meet Treaty obligations. Some of the key measures for a country’s implementation of the Treaty include: (i) creating legal space for its implementation; (ii) notifying the Treaty secretariat of materials which are held by public institutions and therefore in the MLS; (iii) providing a clear process for access to PGRFA in Annex1 and non-Annex 1 PGRFA; and (iv) promoting farmers’ rights and incentives for voluntary inclusions of materials not in the MLS and held by natural and legal persons. The process of treaty implementation has seen Uganda notify the Treaty secretariat of all of its collection under management and control of public institutions in 2014. About 700 collections of annex 1 crops were notified to the Treaty secretariat, of which more than 100 are bean accessions. In 2015, Uganda also became signatory to the Nagoya Protocol of the CBD, which governs access and benefit sharing (ABS) of all genetic resources.

Uganda has developed a national policy on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, but this has not yet been passed into law and awaits tabling through parliament. The country is also in the process of developing guidelines for ABS under the ITPGRFA in harmony with the provisions of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol. A ministerial order was issued and a committee set up to provide modalities for harmonizing ABS laws under the Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA and for strengthening institutional arrangements for their mutually supportive implementation. A memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was developed between the lead institutions, namely UNCST, NARO-PGRC and NEMA. The committee was requested to come up with interim measures for accessing plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Statutory Instrument) in Uganda while the review of the ABS law is underway. The temporary procedure provides that all PGRFA be accessed through NARO-PGRC and be notified to the competent authority UNCST, that any PGRFA that is not in the MLS will be accessed through NARO in consultation with NEMA. UNCST provides clearance for all PGRFA. This has made it easier and clearer for all parties to have access to PGRFA which is important for climate change adaptation and ultimately for the country’s food security.

Launch of the Resilient Seed Systems resource box

Women of the community seed bank of Gumbu, South Africa. Photo: R.Vernooy

Women of the community seed bank of Gumbu, South Africa. Photo: R.Vernooy

Farmers from around the world are telling us that better access to crop and varietal diversity might help them to adapt to climate change. Under supportive policy and socioeconomic conditions, such strengthened adaptive capacity could contribute to greater food availability throughout the year, the production of more nutritious and healthy crops, and income generation.

Researchers are increasingly using climate and crop modeling tools to predict the adaptive capacity of a given crop to expected changes in climate. The results of these modeling exercises can be used to design strategies to access and use crops and crop varieties that are expected to be better adapted to future climate changes in specific locations. Researchers, gene bank managers, extension agents, and farmers could then gain access to these potentially useful plant genetic resources through the multilateral system of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture or other means. Once obtained, these “new” plant genetic resources can be evaluated in target environments through on-farm experimentation over one or more cycles.

To assist countries design and implement a comprehensive capacity-building strategy to access and use plant genetic resources more effectively in the context of climate change adaptation a team of Bioversity International researchers developed a resilient seed systems resource box. This resource box is an on-line tool containing eight modules that represent the steps of a dynamic research cycle: 1. Situational analysis and planning; 2. Data preparation and selection of software; 3. Climate change analysis and identification of germplasm; 4. Germplasm acquisition; 5. Field experimentation; 6. Germplasm conservation; 7. Participatory evaluation; 8. Knowledge sharing and communication.

The resource box is intended for plant breeders, researchers, gene bank managers, and policymakers with an interest in plant genetic resources, university lecturers and advanced students with an interest in agricultural development, adaptation to climate change, and seed systems, and others involved in the strengthening of farmers’ seed systems and their capacity to adapt to climate change.

Access the resourc box at:

We look forward to receiving feedback on the content and practical use of the resource box.

Ronnie Vernooy, on behalf of the contributors


Community seedbank secrets revealed in a new book

New publication: Community Seed Banks – Origins, Evolution and Prospects.

Community Seed Banks - Origins, Evolution and Prospects

Community Seed Banks – Origins, Evolution and Prospects

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Earthscan/Routledge in association with Bioversity International  Community Seed Banks – Origins, Evolution and Prospects which provides for the first time a global review of the development of community seedbanks, including a wide range of case studies.

Found all around the world, from Guatemala to Uganda and Nepal, community seedbanks play an important role in maintaining seeds and making them available to local communities.

The story of their establishment, their evolution and sustainability in almost 30 years of existence is varied and fascinating. Some seedbanks were established to face the loss of local seed supplies after a famine, drought or flood. Others were established because farmers did not have any reliable source of good quality seed. Some others were initiated to maintain and use healthy and pure seed lines resulting from participatory crop improvement efforts.

Read more on the Bioversity web site and blog by Ronnie Vernooy on the Earthscan/Routledge web site.

We have some copies available, for free, for libraries, research and farmers’ organziations and community seed banks in developing countries. Please contact bio-policy[at] to request a copy. Remember to provide a full mailing address.

Farmers’ seed systems -report of an experts meeting organized by GIZ

On June 4, 2014, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) organized an expert talk about farmers’ seed systems in Bonn, Germany. A number of researchers presented their views on current trends and challenges of farmers’ seed systems. One of the topics presented was community seed banks. A report of the meeting is now available:

This publication aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion in Germany about the role of seeds in agrobiodiversity conservation and food security. For more information, contact: Alberto Camacho-Henriquez at GIZ, <>.