Participatory Plant Breeding for Climate Change Adaptation: the case of FIPAH and new Santa Cruz and Capulin Mejorado varieties

October 17th, 2008

This case study highlights the work of farmers in Yoro and Otoro regions of Honduras, supported by USC Canada partner FIPAH (Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers). Farmers organize community-based agricultural research teams (called CIALs), to diversify their plant genetic resources and to develop hardier plant varieties that grow well on their soils. As part of USC Canada’s global Seeds of Survival (SoS) program, FIPAH considers farmers local experts whose knowledge is essential to building resilient food systems to solve food security challenges, as well as to promote food sovereignty — farmers’ability to stay on their lands, grow their own food and control their food production systems.

Simeona Perez of Santa Cruz CIAL with farmer-bred corn varieties Photo:  Omar Gallardo, FIPAH

Simeona Perez of Santa Cruz CIAL with farmer-bred corn varieties Photo: Omar Gallardo, FIPAH

In October 2006, farmers of Santa Cruz CIAL in the mountainous Yoro region released two varieties of corn they had developed, based on a local or ‘landrace’ variety that has large cobs but tall stalks. In a region increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes, this had become a problem. Large cobs are linked genetically to tall stalks which, over time, produced taller and taller corn, that although beneficial for animal fodder, run the risk of being knocked over by winds. Through a participatory breeding process, farmers were able to produce two improved varieties — Santa Cruz and Capulin Mejorado — that are shorter, with a higher yield and still adapted to high altitude conditions.

One of the agricultural experts who have developed these corn varieties is Simeona Perez, a farmer with Santa Cruz CIAL. Small farmers have been largely ignored by government and agricultural scientists, and so Simeona, Amalia, Pedro, Fatima and others took matters into their own hands. With FIPAH’s support, their farmer research team (CIAL) developed corn varieties that could withstand the annual bouts of heavy rains and winds that — beginning with Hurricane Mitch in 1998 – have become a constant sign of climate change in the region, causing crop failure by flattening the corn in their fields.

Through continuous selection and breeding, farmers in Santa Cruz CIAL succeeded in reducing the stature of Capulin and Santa Cruz corn, while increasing average yield. Capulin is an indigenous corn variety that already grows well in high altitudes. Farmers collected seeds for the community seed bank to secure a healthy seed supply. The release of this corn coincided with one of the heaviest hurricane seasons on record. Simeona said “this year, because of the enormous amount of rain, many people had almost nothing to harvest, and will have no decent seed to sow in May. But because of the quality of our seed, combined with conservation practices, we were hardly affected.” Farmers and officials across Honduras have applauded their success, and have received Capulin Mejorado seeds for their own communities.

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