Subhash Adhikari is one of 70 smallholder wheat farmers in the Chitwan district of Nepal benefitting from the Seed System Initiative, implemented by Cornell’s Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project in 2017-18.
Farmers like Adhikari who plant quality wheat seeds reap greater harvests and are assured better markets for the seed.
“Producing certified wheat seeds instead of wheat grains for the first time by many of my fellow farmers has brought better returns, raised knowledge levels and given us confidence to become a community of quality wheat seed producers,” said Adhikari.
The Chitwan district is one of the leading zones in Nepal for the production of maize, wheat, mustard, vegetables and poultry. Farmers there, as everywhere, depend on quality seeds. Seed quality and variety determines success in terms of productivity, resilience to pests, disease and drought, and financial returns. But producing quality wheat seeds is a real challenge for smallholder farmers.
“Nepal employs 66 percent of its 26.5 million people in agriculture,” said Maricelis Acevedo, Cornell plant pathologist in International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and associate director of science for the DGGW. “Progress in the seed sector is essential for improving the lives of the majority of people and for the development of the economy as a whole. Usually, farmers who grow wheat as a cereal crop do so from seeds they have saved, not from quality-certified wheat seeds – a practice that is further aggravated by gaps in their knowledge about processing and technical know-how.”
To address the gaps in the wheat seed value chain in Nepal, DGGW agricultural scientists partnered with the Agriculture and Forest University (AFU) of Rampur in 2016 in a five-year project to build a platform to help wheat farmers develop a market-linked quality seed production system.
In 2017-18, 70 wheat grain farmers sowed foundation seeds of Vijay and Goutam, two publicly released, rust-resistant wheat varieties for the Chitwan region, on 114 acres of land (75 acres of farmer land and 39 acres of AFU land.
“The AFU team worked relentlessly during all phases of the wheat season to source and distribute quality foundation seeds to the farmers and provide on-farm extension training and technical support to the smallholder seed producers to help them produce quality certified wheat seeds,” said Acevedo. “AFU agronomists, entomologists, technicians and extension professionals provided extended support to the wheat seed farmers to get the harvest right.”
More than 65 metric tons of quality certified wheat seeds were produced through this community seed production model. The harvested seeds underwent quality testing and processing at the AFU’s seed lab and seed processing unit, established in early 2017 under the DGGW project.
A buy-back agreement with a local seed company provides assured market linkages to the wheat seed produced by the farmers. The Pithwa Beej Bridhi Co. bought processed certified wheat seeds from AFU. Proceeds were the first earnings.
“The seed quantity produced by us and the very fact that we did not face any rejections due to quality are in itself a motivation,” said Adhikari.
AFU aims to double the area under certified wheat seed production and extend the benefit of the “Seed Village Model” to many more Chitwan wheat farmers in the 2018-19 season, when AFU also expects to complete construction of a facility that can store 1000 metric tons of seed before the 2019 harvest.
“AFU and the DGGW are bridging the gap by providing timely access to quality foundation seeds for smallholder farmers,” said Acevedo.
Mansi Naithani is a project management consultant with International Programs.