When the indigenous ‘Jumli Marsi’ variety of rice, grown in Nepal’s Jumla district, was hit by blast infection, farmers had little choice but to substitute it with the Chandannath 1 and 3 ‘improved’ varieties developed through hybridisation and originating in China.
The Chandannath varieties stood up well against Magnaporthe grisea, the blast fungus, and the farmers were happy. But, it was not long before farmers and consumers realised that Jumli Marsi made for a more satisfying meal. However, there are difficulties at the policy level as there are no provisions for mixing.
With policy gaps that hinder innovation and marginalise indigenous seeds, Nepal’s experts are calling for a new approach. And seed farmers like Bishnu Bahadur Rawal are looking for assurance on farmers’ basic rights and an informed agriculture policy.
Rawal took up the issue at a training workshop of Kathmandu’s Genebank for strengthening the seed system of local crops. “It would be better if the policy is revised and reformed after considering inputs from farmers. Farmers do not know much about the policy — or even that there is one,” he commented at the workshop attended by farmers, researchers, seed companies and a top government representative.
Nepal’s new Agriculture Development Strategy, implemented since January 2016, addresses farmers’ rights and seed sovereignty, though it omits minor, underutilised crops. The National Agro-biodiversity Policy, revised in 2014, has a conservation focus and discusses the conservation of underutilised species.
“The government has to prioritise conservation of neglected and underutilised crops in terms of research, investment and preparation of an institutional framework that covers human resources and educational materials,” said Devendra Gauchan, agriculture economist and project manager at the Nepal office of Bioversity International.