Devra I. Jarvis, Toby Hodgkin, Bhuwon R. Sthapit, Carlo Fadda, and Isabel Lopez-Noriega
Over the last two decades a substantial body of information has developed on the continuing maintenance and use of traditional crop varieties by small-scale farmers around the world. Farmers appear to find that crop biodiversity, in the form of traditional varieties of both major staples and minor crops, remains important to their livelihoods, despite earlier expectations that these varieties would rapidly disappear from production systems. In these circumstances it seems important, not only to understand better the nature and contribution of traditional varieties to the production strategies of rural communities around the world, but also ways in which they are maintained and managed. This can help in the development of ways of improving the use of these varieties and their contribution to rural livelihoods.
While each situation may appear to be unique with respect to the amount of diversity present in the system, its distribution and the associated biological, environmental, socio-economic and cultural characteristics. This paper provides an heuristic framework to identify general properties which can be used to identify the sorts of activities that farmers, and those working with them, may find useful in identifying ways in which traditional varieties can both be maintained and contribute to improved livelihoods. This paper is about the numerous sorts of specific actions that have been undertaken around the world over the last 20 years to overcoming multiple constraints farmers face in using their traditional crop varieties for sustainable agricultural production. The paper notes that any action or set of actions should be based on an appropriate understanding of the extent and distribution of crop varietal diversity in a system and of how it is maintained through local institutions and practices, and that any analysis is likely to lead to the identification of a number of complementary supporting actions. Moreover, the decision to implement a particular action, and therefore its success, will depend on farmers and the farming community having the knowledge and leadership capacity to evaluate the benefits that this action will have for them. This in turn emphasizes the importance of activities (whether by local, national and international organizations and agencies) of strengthening local institutions so as to enable farmers to take a greater role in the management of their resources.