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Relevance of Community Seed Bank is Increasing

In the context of climate change and deterioration of genetic resource pool globally, and increasing interest of multinational companies in the seed sector, experts today highlighted that the relevance of community seed banks is increasing in a discussion programme on “Operationalizing SAARC Seed Bank and Material Transfer Agreement from the Community Seed Banks’ Perspective” organized by SAWTEE.

The programme saw discussions on the challenges and opportunities of Community Seed Banks—which are involved in the conservation and development of local varieties of food crops—and their future area of work against the backdrop of the signing of the Agreement on SAARC Seed Bank and associated Material Transfer Agreement. Altogether 17 experts from Nepal Agriculture Research Council, Ministry of Agriculture Development and the private sector, independent experts and farmers who are involved in operating Community Seed Banks contributed in the discussion.

Inaugurating the programme, Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari, Chief Executive Director of SAWTEE, threw light on the changing global scenario regarding scientific advancement and orientation of governance system in the seed sector in the recent decade. However, he also highlighted the enormous contribution of the traditional seed system in agrarian and poor countries like Nepal. Since community seed banks are operating on the foundation of a traditional and informal seed system that has traditionally been practised in these countries, Dr. Adhikari argued that Community Seed Banks are to be institutionalized to reduce the dependency of poor farmers on the seeds of multinational companies. 

Mr. Kamalesh Adhikari, coordinator of a regional research on the same theme being conducted by SAWTEE, opined that there is the common idea that seed exchange should be facilitated in order to ensure food security and agriculture development. However, opinions are divided regarding the governance system of seed exchange. He further said that Community Seed Banks might be an important tool to institutionalize farmers’ rights over agriculture genetic resources in the context of growing pressure on these countries for securing breeders’ rights. Since Nepal is a signatory to the Agreement on SAARC Seed Bank and a party to the other international agreements such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Mr. Adhikari urged experts to discuss the required functional linkages between the SAARC Seed Bank and Community Seed Banks to ensure seed security and farmers’ rights in the region. 

Dr. Pratap Shrestha, Country Representative and Scientific Advisor, USC Asia Canada, questioned the definition of the Seed Replacement Rate (SRR). According to Dr. Shrestha, the current idea of SRR incorporates only the use of modern and certified seed and completely ignores farmer-managed seed system. Adding to Dr. Shrestha’s view, Ms. Yamuna Ghale, Senior Programmme Officer, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, opined that the sovereign rights of the country should not be compromised while devising policies and legal framework regarding the exchange of food- and agriculture- related genetic resources in the country.
Ram Ekbal Prasad Yadav, President, Agriculture Development and Conservation Society, Kacharwa, Bara, said that Community Seed Banks are conserving endangered varieties at the local level in a traditional way. However, he argued that sustainability is the major challenge to them in the days to come unless they are supported by government and other stakeholders.

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