Promoting sustainable conservation and utilization of neglected and underutilized species in Ghana
In Africa, farming communities have conserved neglected and underutilized species (NUS), also known as minor or orphan crops, as part of local food systems for centuries. NUS are important for food, nutrition, and medicinal use, as animal feed; in socio-cultural traditions; and for income generation. NUS also contribute to providing ecosystem services from agriculture. The NUS diversity currently available can be attributed largely to farmers’ sustainable use of them. However, NUS are increasingly under pressure including in Ghana, due to population growth; expansion of land cultivated with staple and cash crops; dwindling pollinator and disperser populations; unavailability of seed and other planting material; migration of younger generations to cities; changing eating preferences and habits; and, limited attention to and support for NUS in research, extension, education and policy.
The concept of community seed/field bank (sometimes known as community seed reserve) is one of the approaches to harness and protect crop diversity in a community. Community seed/field banks aim to regain, maintain and increase the control of farmers and local communities over seeds and to strengthen cooperation among farmers and between farmers and others involved in the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. The community seed bank system also facilitates access to a diverse collection of seeds and planting materials within the farmers’ community, while also creating opportunities for generating revenue to support the conservation of local varieties and the sustainability of the seed bank through the sale of seeds.
Mangoase Crop Diversity/ Piloting the community seed and field bank
Following our publication on Roles, Trends and Challenges of Neglected and Underutilized Species in Ghana, the Agricultural team (LNV) of Dutch Embassy in Ghana partnered with NUS Ghana and Alliance Biodiversity International - CIAT to establish a pilot community seed bank in Ghana. Establishment of the seed bank used the Farmer-Based Association (FBA) managed community seed/field bank approach to promote the conservation and utilisation of NUS. It will addresses a major challenge in Ghana by giving farmers and their communities improved access to planting materials.
The pilot initiative took place in Mangoase in Adawso, in the Akwapim North District, which is a site known for high diversity of root and tuber crops, cereals, legumes, fruit tree species and vegetables. Adawso has a high diversity of NUS crops as well.
A farmer-based association (Nyonkopa farmer group) in the community, which is actively involved in the pilot project is vibrant with an active membership of 120 (83 men and 37 women).
Farmers in Mangoase cultivate more than 30 crop and tree species and many more varieties, with important roles of vegetatively propagated crops such as banana species (desert banana, cooking banana and plantain), roots (ginger, onion, sweet potato) and tubers (cassava, coco-yam, taro, yellow yam); traditional African and modern vegetables (African eggplant, bitter leaf, cabbage, chilli, Gboma eggplant, okra, tomato, white jute); and tree crops (breadfruit, cocoa, coconut, oil palm, orange, papaya); complemented by common bean, cowpea, and maize. Some farmers maintain a considerable diversity of crops, e.g., one farmer household maintains five varieties of cassava, three of plantain, six vegetables and four of yam; another household maintains four varieties of cassava, six of plantain, 13 vegetables and seven of yam. However, the crop diversity is dwindling. Most affected are banana and plantain, cassava, taro and yam, and several African leafy vegetable species. The reasons given by farmers for the crops/varieties with poor diversity status are lack of economic incentives (no market), lack of or inadequate planting materials, delayed maturity, poor crop management, lack of knowledge about the crop/variety, low yielding, not preferred for consumption.
New Facility and Activities
Farmers’ capacity to establish and manage the pilot community seed/field bank and related activities will be built through the collaboration among the NUS Network of Ghana, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, the District MoFA office, the Agricultural Extension Service, and scientists of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (CSIR-PGRRI), the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI) and the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR).
To maintain the community seed/field bank over time, value addition activities of local crops will be explored to increase the socio-economic recognition and economic value of NUS, and contribute to improved nutrition and health, income generation, conservation and sustainable livelihoods.
It is hoped that the Mangoase pilot community seed/field bank experiences can be disseminated to other regions of Ghana in collaboration with key national institutions, including the PGRRI, universities and other seed sector stakeholders.
The agricultural team in Ghana together with the colleagues in The Hague and CIAT will continue to work with and support local actors on this important theme. Send us an email via email@example.com if you want to know more.