Small farmers hold the key to seed diversity: researchers

Mon Feb 16, 2015 2:06pm EST
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By Chris Arsenault

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Up to 75 percent of the seeds needed to produce the world's diverse food crops are held by small farmers, researchers said following a review of international census data.

Growers with farms of less than seven acres preserve diversity through "networks of seed and knowledge exchanges", Karl Zimmerer, a Penn State University geography professor who led the research, told a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Friday.

Some 75 percent of the world's plant genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported, as farmers shift from local varieties to genetically uniform, high-yielding crop breeds.

About 75 percent of the world's food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species, the FAO has said.

Unlike large plantations which are monocultures, small farmers often plant several different species of staple crops, like potatoes, improving the resilience of their food and increasing its diversity.

While less efficient for some large farms, planting a variety of seeds can help food systems build resilience to pests or climate change, growers said.

"How many resources are going to monocultures and how many are going to diversifying food production systems?" Nicaraguan indigenous activist Myrna Cunningham asked during a U.N. conference on Monday.

"If we (start to) base food production on the richness of our diverse societies, we can improve the situation."   Continued...