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Reviewing the success of the USAID Famine Seed Project

The USAID Famine Seed Project is currently working in Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, and Ethiopia to promote new varieties and advanced lines, strengthen links with other stakeholders and integrate new agronomic technologies for future harvest cycles. On 26 August, a meeting was held at the CIMMYT South Asia Office in Kathmandu to review the progress of the 2010-11 crop cycle, develop a work plan for the coming cycle, and further strengthen collaborations with the private sector and other stakeholders to produce and deliver new seed. The 16 participants included representatives of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), CIMMYT-Nepal, ILRI-India, CSISA HUB partners, and Nepalese private seed companies.
Implemented jointly by the national wheat programs, CIMMYT, ICARDA, and the BGRI, the project centers on identifying suitable Ug99-resistant varieties, pre- and post-release production of the seed, and its delivery to farmers. CIMMYT wheat breeder Arun Joshi highlighted that every country in the project has released Ug99-resistant varieties, demonstrating increased uptake by farmers.

In promoting stronger links with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), field demonstrations were presented by DP Sherchan, CSISA hub manager; AP Regmi, CSISA agronomist; and Andrew McDonald, CIMMYT cropping systems agronomist. They showed that in 2010-11, as with the previous cycle, the yield of newly obtained resistant varieties (BL 3063 and Francolin) was significantly superior to the local checks under zero tillage, reflecting continued work to combine Ug99-resistant varieties with conservation agriculture technologies.

In Nepal, the USAID project is playing a vital role in ensuring food security, given the importance of wheat in the Terai and hills of the country, and it’s prevalence in the two main cropping systems (rice-wheat and maize-wheat), said Niranjan Adhikari, Director (Crops and Horticulture), NARC. In addition to the Ug99-resistant variety (Vijay) already released in the country, it is hoped that two more will be released by the end of this year. NARC scientists Janmejai Tripathi, Shesh Raman Upadhyay, and Nutan Gautam said the estimated seed production of resistant lines in 2011-12 will be sufficient to meet demand (8.6% of the effective seed market; 2.7% of Nepal’s total wheat area), though Adhikari warned that sufficient investment in wheat is vital if the momentum of variety diversification and replacement is to continue.

KD Joshi, South Asia Regional Coordinator for CAZS Natural Resources, Bangor University, suggested that “knowledge travels first, and then the seed”, so increased communication with farmers would lead to faster adoption of resistant varieties. MR Bhatta and Sarala Sharma concurred, saying that farmers’ participatory research is vital in the dissemination of new seeds. The increasing links with the newly emerging private sector were also highlighted by Ramji Yadav from seed company Kalika Seeds; in 2009-10 his was the only company engaged in multiplication of Ug99-resistant varieties in Nepal, but this has now increased to eight (Lumbini Seeds, Universal Seeds, South Asia Seeds, Umnath Seed Company, Pancha Shakti Seed Company and International Seed Company). Jwala Vairacharya, Head of Seed Science Division, NARC, said that both the public and private sectors need to take a greater role if they are to make full use of the Ug99-resistant lines in the difficult terrain and diverse geography of Nepal.