P is for Participatory Plant Breeding

P is for Participatory Plant Breeding

Date: 4 October 2014

Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) is a decentralised and participatory approach to breeding and creating different types of plants. Researchers and farmers work together to create varieties of plants that are better adapted to local soils and weather patterns. This collaboration between researchers and farmers can help to speed up the development of new varieties from 10-15 year to 5-7 years.

In PPB, farmers take the lead in selecting varieties of plants that might be worth breeding and improving. They also take the lead in growing and distributing new types of seed to other farmers. PPB helps to empower farmers and gives them more control over the development of plant varieties and therefore control over their livelihood. Since women always play such an important part in preserving and planting seeds, they stand to gain the most from PPB approaches.

Corporate-controlled seed breeding programmes tend to serve large scale, corporate farming rather than small-scale farmers. Using genetic engineering and hybridisation techniques the seeds they breed usually require chemical inputs and prevent farmers from saving their seeds. Using PPB, farmers are empowered to take control of the seed development process and breed seeds which they can trade, save and continue to improve.
In Uganda, 500 farmers decided that instead of continuing to rely on food aid, they would replicate mosaic virus-resistant variety of cassava which they got from a local research station. By selectively breeding this new variety of cassava, farmers were able to produce six times as much cassava as usual.

Photo: Hand pollination in an African eggplant breeding program. Credit: Globalhort

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.