Production of neglected and underutilized (NUS) crops depends entirely on a farmer-managed seed system that is characterized by poor seed quality. Unreliable seed sources is another challenge. Consequently, productivity of such crops has been limited.
The team previously revealed the crops that farming communities have, over decades, maintained and valued for food and nutrition security. Among the diverse NUS crops in five targeted sites, Bambara nut and finger millet emerged as most preferred for their food and nutritive value, adaptive traits to climate change-related stresses, and commercial value. Some landrace varieties were commercially released years back, but seed availability is a critical constraint to their production. The project has assessed diversity and collected germplasm of existing cultivars and, working with farmer groups, bulk seed of the available landraces. It has also established backup seed at research and university institutions.
To strengthen farmer seed systems, the project evaluated the cultivars/varieties of the two crops through agronomic trials. The farmer participatory approach provided a platform for training farmers the best seed production practices while co-learning with researchers and extension officers. Crops varieties’ growth performance and seed yields across sites varied widely, influencing farmers’ preferences for specific varieties. The recommendation is to have farmers prioritize multiplication of seed for most-adapted and -preferred varieties in their respective environments and communities.
The project’s first phase accomplished bulking seed of farmer-preferred varieties of the two crops, providing foundation seed for the farmers to engage in seed multiplication. The need now is to pilot seed multiplication by individuals or farmer groups and assess seed quality produced after project participation. Gaps remain to build FRN capacity in seed storage practices that maintain high seed quality and viability.
Research gaps include understanding cultivars’ pest and disease resistance/tolerance in different sites, seed storage and viability/shelf life under farmers’ conditions, maintenance of genetic purity by farmers, and seed distribution and marketing in the local areas. Industry regulators need to be engaged to help work out the policy environment for recognition of seed produced by the FRNs as acceptable for local distribution and marketing.
The overall goal is to strengthen farmer-managed seed systems for improved seed quality and access of preferred crop varieties in Malawi for use and sale by smallholder farmers.
Specifically, the project seeks to:
Provide farmers with experiential learning opportunities to multiply and preserve seed quality of Bambara nut and finger millet as case study of underutilized crops.
Train farmers in methods for testing and monitoring seed viability under conditions of farmer-managed seed systems.
Co-develop marketing systems with farmer groups to include packaging, distribution (local and external outlets), and assessment of demand for Bambara nut and finger millet.
Maintain/preserve backup seed of germplasm collections of varieties of Bambara nut and finger millet collected from farming communities during project’s initial phase.
Engage relevant policymakers on seed systems to facilitate recognition of quality of seed multiplied for Bambara nut and finger millet crops under farmer-managed seed system.
Train postgraduate students (MSc.) in agronomy/seed health/agribusiness/seed marketing/extension for Bambara nut and finger millet in targeted farming communities.
Outputs and Outcomes:
Farmers/FRNs trained in multiplication of high seed quality for NUS crops
Farmers experienced in seed multiplication of their preferred varieties/cultivars of Bambara nut and finger millet; farmers and extension personnel trained on principles of integrated pest management in seed multiplication (agronomic practices)
Farmers and extension personnel trained in seed testing for quality, viability, and vigor using locally available resources
Feasible storage approaches to preserve seed quality under farmers’ conditions identified
Organizational platform to assure integrated seed system developed
Seed of germplasm collections for farmer varieties of Bambara nut and finger millet preserved
Farmer-preferred varieties multiplied
Increased smallholder farmer knowledge, attitudes, and practices on production, storage, and distribution of quality and preferred seed under integrated seed system (ISS)
Farmers trained in seed marketing and distribution (agribusiness management) and linked to better markets through good packaging and promotion of seed produced
Markets identified for quality seed produced under farmer-managed system
Opportunities to afford the farmers produce-quality declared seed of NUS crops jointly explored with Seed Services Unit
Model for mainstreaming AEI and FRN principles in ISS developed (e.g., co-creation, circular, and local economy)
Two postgraduates trained at MSc. level in relevant disciplines for seed systems (agronomy, plant breeding, seed science, agribusiness/extension)
Improved availability and distribution of quality seed of preferred varieties of neglected and underutilized species (NUS) crops
Improved quality (purity, vigor, viability, etc.) of seed grown under farmer-managed seed system for Bambara nut and finger millet
Improved availability and distribution (quantity) of farmer-managed seed of farmer-preferred varieties for Bambara nut and finger millet within targeted sites
Increased productivity and production of Bambara nut and finger millet
Strengthened farmer capacity (knowledge, skills, and agronomic requirements) to produce quality seed of preferred varieties
Increased income at household level of farmers engaged in seed production of locally farmer-preferred crop varieties
Increased awareness of need to recognize and support farmer-managed seed systems by policymakers
Increased capacity for research studies on factors to focus in supporting farmers’ seed production for improved quality and availability of preferred varieties
Strengthened capacity to maintain germplasm of farmer-preferred crop varieties at project partner institutions LUANAR and National Gene Bank at Chitedze
Local genetic material (germplasm) of farmer preferred crops/cultivars conserved