The Planning of Emergency Seed Supply for Afghanistan in 2002 and Beyond
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Contents Findings Part I Part II Part III References Abbreviations/Glossary Appendix 1 2 3 4 5 Maps
Part I : Context of Providing Seed Aid to Afghanistan « previous page | next page »
1.0 - Introduction
1.1 - Food Production
1.2 - Recent Wheat Improvement Efforts
1.3 - Are different strategies needed for the irrigated and non-irrigated areas?

1.1 - Introduction

Planners of post-conflict and post-famine seed supply operations must frequently confront a situation in which "local seed is safe but scarce, international seed can be imported but may be riskier." A bias toward large commodity purchases of externally-sourced seed needs to be confronted in the early design phase of a relief operation. This is critical if seed aid is to be of equal benefit to both small and large farms, to both remote and centrally-located farms, and to both irrigated and rainfed farms. Planners of seed aid should try to avoid aggravating a situation in which permanent loss of in situ genetic diversity of traditional crops may already be likely.

Those providing support to Afghanistan need to be clear that the primary concern at this time is that farmers are supported to enable them to start supporting themselves again. First, what has been grown and how it was grown should be promoted. This includes ensuring that crop systems maintain their robustness and are not exposed to additional risks. We oppose moves to launch an emergency seed program that aims primarily to promote introduced HYVs. At this time programs must ensure the maintenance or reestablishment of effective generic diversity within village-level agroecosystems. The primary aim must be to provide farmers with varieties and landraces that they were growing in the past and know. Providing new germplasm and technology should be done as part of a second phase, after the primary aim of replenishing time-tested germplasm to farmers has been achieved and the market, infrastructure and incentives are available to farmers to enable them to benefit from new technologies.

If the ICARDA-led program decides to adopt an HYV-centered path, then the FAO and CGIAR and funding organizations risk being criticized for providing only lip service to genetic diversity whilst promoting their own agenda. In the absence of a viable economic infrastructure to support a highly developed market system that would provide on-going seed supplies and ensure profitable returns and markets for farmers, some organizations might then view the program cynically, arguing that HYV-centered seed aid is being used to make farmers dependent on foreign seed and outside enterprises at the expense of their security. Market systems that would provide on-going seed supplies and ensure profitable returns and markets for farmers need to be developed over time in an environment of political stability.

A seed relief operation that focuses on the delivery of modern variety seed from other countries may pose a complicated array of potential benefits and problems. Modern varieties of wheat and rice are usually short-stemmed, fast-maturing, fertilizer-responsive, and bred with high-yield potential. Having, say, a third of one's wheat crop planted to such an early-maturing wheat variety may be a valuable protection against the risk of a drought that begins late in the cropping season. On the other hand, the tight "physiological time table" of many modern cereal varieties means that they may be more susceptible to yield loss and crop failure than local longer-maturing varieties when stressed by drought, nutrient deficiencies, insect predation or crop disease.

Civil war and famine are themselves major causes of the erosion of in situ crop genetic diversity. Emergency seed aid will hopefully not compound these losses if careful efforts are taken to collect and replicate scattered remnants of local seed supplies at the same time that imported variety seed is being extended. If landrace and other local variety seed is subsequently re-extended, farmers are then free to chose the varieties they prefer. There may also be some traditional wheat and barley agroecosystems in Afghanistan where in situ conservation of landrace varieties,--now more often likely to be found in relatively remote hinterland areas-- may merit variety-specific subsidies or other steps to motivate farmers to continue growing these traditional varieties with lower yield potential.

On the other hand, variety-diverse monocultures of wheat or rice may be far more sustainable over the longer term than a monoculture that is dominated by only one or two varieties, be they modern, landrace, or locally-improved. Dennis (1987) found that innovative rice farmers in northern Thailand who were the first to experiment with modern rice varieties in their villages were often "diversity maximizers" who also reached out to other valleys to bring back long-out-of-favor landrace varieties. These farmers explained their "bottom feeding" rotation of rice varieties by saying "the variety gets tired of the site." There was, in effect, an indigenous knowledge at work to stay ahead of insect and disease problems. If no one cereal variety was allowed to become dominant in the local cropping system, there was less selective pressure on insect pests and pathosystems to become highly virulent.

Afghanistan is a center of genetic diversity for wheat and barley production as well as for chickpea and lentils(Vavilov,1992). An operating assumption of this paper is that it is critically important that the genetic diversity of Afghanistan's wheat crops be maintained on the landscape and that a seed procurement strategy that only provides outside modern varieties may put farmers - including those in stressed, low-input farming situations more at risk than would the provision of seed of more rugged, locally-adapted varieties.

The best approach is a balanced one that, on the one hand, seeks to stimulate the protection and use of remaining local supplies of wheat seed and, on the other hand, seeks to identify, procure, and distribute seeds of well-adapted outside varieties of wheat. An overall approach that focuses on only one of these sources to the exclusion of the other is risky and more likely to fail.

Although this paper focuses on the provision of seed for Afghanistan's most important food crop, wheat, the goal to "protect and utilize local seed resources" applies to barley and many other crops as well.

The Seeds of Survival/Ethiopia Program may provide an excellent model for the conservation of crop genetic diversity in Afghanistan (Beyene,1997). This program, now in operation for more than 10 years, seeks to protect local crop diversity using a three-phase approach: a) rescue and conservation, b)farmer-participatory evaluation, selection, and enhancement, and c) production and utilization of indigenous varieties.

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