Biotechnologies for smallholders: new publications

i3403e00The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently released a new publication, Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock and Fish, which details how biotechnologies can help smallholders improve their livelihoods and food security. The report urges governments and stakeholders to take greater steps to bring agricultural biotechnologies to smallholder producers in developing countries.

Through 19 case studies in crops, livestock and fisheries, authors explore real experiences of smallholders using biotechnology in the production of a variety of crops, for example, bananas, cassava, rice, livestock and shrimp. The cases also cover a range of biotechnologies such as artificial insemination, fermentation and more sophisticated DNA-based methodologies, although not genetic modification.

The case studies have been selected from India, China, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand. In India, as an example, DNA markers have been used to develop a flood-tolerant rice variety with a potential yield increase of 1 to 3 tons per hectare compared to other varieties, under flood conditions. As of 2012, the new variety, Swarna-Sub1, was being used by three million farmers.

In Cameroon, DNA-based diagnostic tools have allowed for the quick detection and diagnosis of Peste des Petits Ruminants outbreaks, a virus which can rapidly spread amongst goats and sheep. This biotechnology has enabled authorities to control the disease, thus preventing an outbreak.

Biotechnologies, as seen from the case studies, can boost yields, improve quality and market opportunities, reduce costs and thus improve agricultural livelihoods for smallholders. As the report emphasises, however, biotechnologies will only work for smallholder farmers if smallholders participate in the design, research and dissemination processes. [Read more…]

Farmer Innovation in Malawi

A new study conducted in 2011 by Find Your Feet aimed to document and promote farmer innovations in the district of Rumphi in northern Malawi. It did so through focus group discussions with farmers in four of the Extension Planning Areas of the district; through individual interviews with farmers (14 in total); and through visits to renowned innovative farmers (14 in total).

Due to the nature of agriculture farmers must adapt and innovate to ensure a stable and high level of food production. The outcomes of smallholder farmer innovation have not always been recognised, however, and it is only in the past thirty years that there has been a move away the traditional and linear ‘top-down’ approach to technology transfer to a recognition of the value of farmer knowledge and the importance, as end-users of technologies, of their inclusion in broader innovation systems. [Read more…]