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[KATHMANDU] With stocks of seed varieties lost in the 25 April quake, Nepal has begun an exercise to crowdsource farmers’ preferences to determine the right seeds to be planted in specific areas.

A rapid assessment made by the FAO in Nepal’s six most-affected districts suggests that after the quake, and the severe seismic events that followed, about 60 per cent of the food and seed stocks in farming households were destroyed.

Another report released by the Nepal government’s National Planning Commission and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, in July estimates the total demand for seeds for transplantation in affected districts to be worth US$ 1.13 million.

Community seed banks outside the 14 earthquake-affected districts are being tapped. “For the first time, community seed banks from other districts are having to extend their services outside their client base,” says Pitamber Shrestha, project manager at Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), an NGO.

But, scientists are concerned that seeds unsuitable for local conditions are being rushed in. “Supplying people with seeds of unsuitable crops and varieties will result in poor harvests, waste scarce labour and land and extend the period of food insecurity,” write Bhuwon Sthapit and Devendra Gauchan, senior scientist and national programme manager respectively at Bioversity International (BI) in a report published in July.

Sthapit is concerned that the government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment does not acknowledge such complexities. “Every 100 metres of soil has different seed requirements. And if you sow the wrong seed, there will be repercussions for the next 2—3 years. Food insecurity will not be solved by only providing seeds,” he tells SciDev.Net.

With no baseline information in Nepal on type and number of seeds lost after the earthquake, crowdsourcing —  a method used successfully by BI in 11 countries including in India, Guatemala and Honduras — is considered the best bet to ensure appropriate sowing.

“Crowdsourcing is a tool to know farmers’ preferences. We do not have enough seeds to distribute on a large scale as yet, so we are thinking of multiplying the seeds first — crowdsourcing with farmers will begin next year to restore the varieties,” says Krishna Hari Ghimire, senior scientist at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), an apex body.

Sthapit’s team at BI, along with NARC, LI-BIRD, and the Swiss Development Corporation, will involve farmers as ‘citizen scientists’ in the selection and testing process of varieties taken from gene banks, plant breeding programmes and farmers’ fields across Nepal.

“Promoting local varieties through crowdsourcing will help conservation and make use of the agricultural biodiversity we have,” explains Shreshta. “If a variety promoted by crowdsourcing replaces local varieties, it may not be good for resilient family farming. But, if farmers rely on many varieties including those introduced through crowdsourcing, it will be good.”

Shrestha says that there will be rigorous and critical assessment at all stages in collaboration with local agricultural development organisations, careful identification of sources and sharing of possible risk among a large number of people.
“Feedback from farmers will give a trend and analysis of which variety is popular and workable for a certain area,” says Sthapit.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.