On the other hand, it goes without saying that diversity on farms is a source of options and is an essential capital for adaptation to climate change. Agro-biodiversity helps in stabilizing the farming system under changing climatic conditions thereby increasing farm productivity both quantitatively and qualitatively to meet the increasing socio economic needs and preferences. It is only the integration of increased diversity on farm, farmers’ knowledge of the system supported by modern scientific knowledge that can bring about an agricultural system that is more resilient and persistent.
The foregoing is an excerpt from a paper presented on a workshop entitled Media People Sensitization Workshop on the Generic Seed Issues, Ecological Agriculture and Farmers’ Rights, organized by MELCA-Ethiopia and held on September 2, 2011 at Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa.
The purposes of the workshop were to sensitize journalists in the various government and private media about the significance and role of farmers’ variety seeds in ensuring sustainable agriculture and food security and enlighten them with the basics and principles of a sustainable and ecologically friendly agriculture. It is also aimed at making the media people informed of the threats that local seed varieties are facing and raise their awareness regarding farmers’ rights thereby encouraging them to be engaged in an agricultural reporting that would trigger concerned parties to take remedial action.
Dr. Melaku Werede, an Ethiopian scientist internationally acclaimed for the great researches he conducted in plant genetic resources, and winner of Right Livelihood Award commonly referred to as Alternative Nobel Prize and the Herman Warsh Memorial Award, opened the workshop. In his opening speech Dr. Melaku said that the issue of protecting and properly using farmers’ variety seeds is currently becoming a crucial issue in the field of agriculture. In doing so, the role of the media in making the issue public is irreplaceable and so it is very important to create a forum on which they can discuss the issue with professionals in the field. That would help them to see deep enough in to the issue and contribute their part in the process of bringing about a resilient and sustainable agricultural system in the country, Dr. Melaku said.
On the workshop, renowned scholars in the field of agro-biodiversity and plant genetic resources presented a total of four papers.
The first paper entitled Agro-Biodiversity Resource Base: A foundation for sustainable livelihood at present and in the future, was presented by Ato Regassa Feyissa, an agricultural research scientist and Director of Ethiopian Organic Seed Action (EOSA). In his presentation Ato Regassa stated, among others, that agro-biodiversity is a vital sub-set of biodiversity and it needs to be understood as a set of biological, ecological and social assets which intricately coexist and function as a system rather than independently. And for agriculture to be sustainable and resilient to natural shocks, all the elements of agro-biodiversity should function in a harmonious manner.
In addition, it is reflected in the presentation that the impact of the global climate change on agro-biodiversity is far reaching and farming communities with low level of income and capacity are the most affected by climate change impacts. As related to this it is stated that the best way for adaptation to climate change is having genetic diversity on farm and using farmers’ knowledge for their management. It is also stated in the paper that this is justified by the fact that crop diversity provides options for building local resilience to impacts of climate change and helps in stabilizing the farming system under changing climatic conditions.
The second paper, entitled Practices of Learning from and Working with Farmers: the case of EOSA was presented by Dr. Bayush Tsegaye, a crop genetic researcher in EOSA. Dr. Bayush’s presentation focused mainly on two issues: challenges faced by farmers as related to seed supply and EOSA’s engagement in strengthening the informal seed supply system.
As an introduction to the issues in her presentation, Dr. Bayush described Ethiopia as one of world’s crop diversity centers and that the different crop types and varieties that we have today are results of farmers’ long term domestication, adaptation and selection efforts. It is stated that Ethiopia is a diversity center for crops such as coffee, tef, barley, Ethiopian sunflower and enset. However, this diversity is being eroded due to factors among which climate change and loss of farmers’ traditional knowledge relating to change in the perception in the farming system are the prominent ones.
Consequently Ethiopian farmers are currently facing challenges relating to seed supply. These challenges are described in the paper as seed shortage, displacement of farmer varieties, lack of resource to meet the demands of high input varieties and agro-ecological instability resulting from fluctuations in climatic conditions. Dr. Bayush explained that the best remedies to this problem, among others, are working in close collaboration with farmers and making use of their time-tested knowledge including their participation in selection of varieties, using varieties that best fit in a given agro-ecology and variety diversification. As an evidence of the value of farmers’ knowledge, Dr. Bayush described how farmers grow different crop species to fit into variable agro-ecological conditions and meet diverse household needs.
In the effort to minimize the problem that farmers are facing in relation to seed supply, Dr. Bayush also presented the role of EOSA in reintroduction of displaced farmer varieties of major food crops, restoration of on-farm diversity, introduction of new seed varieties, selection of the best seed variety with farmers, multiplication of best selections and community seed banking.
In conclusion Dr. Bayush stated that researches, so far, confirm that no single crop type or variety is able to meet the diverse needs of farmers living in diverse agro-ecologies, and so promoting diversity supported by farmers’ knowledge is needed to cope up with changing climatic condition and meet the needs of not only the current but also that of the future.
Dr. Gemedo Dalle, from the Institute of Biological Conservation, presented the third paper, which focuses on Ethiopia’s Global Responsibility for Protection of Farmer’s Rights: Challenges and Opportunities. In his presentation, Dr. Gemedo raised the issue of farmers’ right to their traditional knowledge and biological resources in their custody, the linkage between biodiversity and poverty reduction in general and agro-biodiversity and food security, in particular, and global and local legal arrangements for the protection of farmers’ rights.
In relation to the issue of giving recognition for the critical and innovative role that farmers play in the conservation and further development of crop genetic resources and their right to benefit from it, he stated that it is a fundamental right that has got protection by both national and international laws and that this right is also an integral part of the wider issue of ‘the right to food.’ Regarding the linkage between biodiversity and poverty reduction, he stated that there is an inextricable linkages between biodiversity, poverty reduction and sustainable development. Dr. Gemedo also briefly touched up on the challenges and opportunities in relation to realization of farmers’ rights in Ethiopia.
Ato Ayele Kebede, program manager ecology at Heinrich Ball Foundation (HBF), presented the fourth paper, entitled Principles of Ecological Agriculture and Sustainable Farming. In this paper Ato Ayele raised topical questions such as ‘what is sustainable agriculture and what are the basic philosophies it is based on?’, ‘what is agro-biodiversity?’ He also highlighted the philosophical underpinnings behind industrial agriculture. He stated that sustainable agriculture is based on four essential system properties namely stability, equitability, productivity and sustainability. It is also described as a system that works on four components: that it should be resource conserving, socially supportive, economically competitive and environmentally sound.
Ato Ayele also explained the characteristics of industrial farming and its philosophical principles as well as its impact on biodiversity. He explained that the food security problem in some parts of the world, especially in developing countries, is not due to lack of food rather it is a problem of unfair distribution of wealth, access to food and capacity to buy food.
Finally a discussion session on which questions and comments on the presented papers were raised was held. During this session Dr. Melaku Werede, the renowned plant genetic scientist forwarded his opinion on the subject of the workshop saying that there is no question that biodiversity, which is a life support system, should be conserved. And among the vast kinds of biodiversity, agro-biodiversity is the center on which the global food security is based. According to Dr. Melaku the best way to conserve agro-biodiversity and have a sustainable and shock resistant agriculture is to use modern scientific knowledge along with the time tested traditional farmers’ knowledge and farmers’ variety. Combining the two knowledge systems will lead us to the goal we are aiming for whereas relying on either of the two independently is not advisable for sustainable agriculture and ensure food security.
A total of 32 journalists from different private and government owned print and electronic media have participated on the one-day workshop.