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«Biotechnology-Assisted Participatory Plant Breeding: Complement or Contradiction? PPB Monograph No. 3 Ann Mane Thro and Charlie Spillane 1 7 ...»

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in teresting new varieties. K. Schmidt and K. Tarnminga (pers. comms.) bot h felt that plant breeding cou ld be made more participatory while stiU inc1uding a laboratory phase in which farmers do not participate directly, except perhaps through educational visits and discussions.

Activities at the downstream end of product development are likely to be more amenable ta farrn cr participation. Farmers' organizations are often involved in adaptive resear ch and tcchnology transfer of loffthe-sh eIr technologies (Co pesta ke, 1990; Mercoiret et al, 1990). while typically bcing exc1uded from most strategic and applied research (Bebbington et a l, 1994; Muchagata et a l, 1994). In public-sector research at least, there is typically little involvement of farmers and other end users (or intermediate llsers s u ch as extension agents) in the process by whi ch technoJogies ge t 'onto the shelf in the first pla ce.

Indeed, one of the most difficult functions to institutionalize in pu blicsector on-farm research is feedback from the clients or users to upstrea m researchers (Merri!1-Sands ~t a l, 1991).

Challenges to the Participation oC Resource-Poor Farmers

Much advocacy of participatory development is based on the assumption that the benefits of participatia n outweigh its costs to farmers (Mayoux, 1995; Mosse, 1995). However, time s pent in participation has an opportunity cost to the poor, whose main economic resource is often their time (Sutherland et al, 1998). A vicious circle of exclusion can set in, wherehy poverty and high -ris k livelihoods are two oCthe most significant obstacles to poor peoples' participation in activi ties designed to alleviate their poverty and reduce lhe nsk. they face (Fox, 1990).

One commentator expressed coneern that, all too orten, researchers adopting a participatory approach merely co-opt a token 'partici patory' farmer assistant, at greater cost to the Carmer than grun (P. Richards, pers. comm.). The costs oCparticipation to farmers must be offset by tangible and immediate benefits, over and aboye those obtained by investing th eir time in other activities. Unlcss they perceive th ese benefits, farmers may be unwilling to participate in voluntary projects (Finsterbusch and van Wieklin, 1987). This is ane of th e main limitations of PPB, which typically has a long time-horizon before farrners reap the rewards (Okali et al, 1994; Thro et a l, 1997). It \Vil!

certainly also be among the chief challenges to biotechnology-assistcd PPB. The first pioneering projects will be particularly afTected, since few biotechnology too15 adapted to farmer participatory rescarch are yet availablc 'on the shelf. The requirement to develop these tools, such as molecular markers for fa rmer-specified traits, will add furth er lo the time-horizon. In the longer term, once the t0015 have been developed, the capacity of biotechnology research to shorten the time-horizon may come into play, making participation once again mOfe attractive to fanners.

Fanner Participatory Research and Plan!. Breeding The time constraint is as relevant to farmers' organizations as to individual farmers. The viability of many farmers' organizations depends on their capacity to provide members with goods and services in the short termo Consequently, they may be unwiHing to bccome involved in 'upstream' research, even though it might help to meet lheir long-term strategic needs (Bebbington el al, 1994; Muchagata et al, 1994). Farmcrs' organizations usually focus on 'downstream' adaptive research and technology transfcr (Copestake, 1990; Mercoiret et al, 1990). This focus is Iikcly to stecr the attention of client-driven researchers away from basie or long-term strategic rcseareh (Ashby and Sperling, 1994).

Thc teehnologics most Iikely to be adopted by resouree-poor farmers are those that can deliver inereases in land and labor produeti\'ily.

Resouree-poor farmers eonstantly faee difficult choiees in allocating their labor, shortages ofwhich are especially severe in houscholds headed by women. For the tandless, labor is particularly precious because it is their main or only productive resource. If it is to appea! to farmers, biotechnology-assisted PPB and associated research needs to focus on the development of products or processes that redu ce la bor requirements, especiaUy for the cornrnunity's worst affected groups. In addition, reducing the labor lime and intensity of key activities in plant breeding could be one way in which biotechnologies could conlribute to PPB and make it more attractive to farmers.

Another challenge facing biotechnology-assisted PPB is the gap between formal and informal research cultures. Farmers are no strangers to experimentalion, but their perceptions of and approaches to their experiments are oflen very different from formal scientific methods as deveIoped in the \Vest (S. Bickersteth, pers. comm.).

Scientific methods arc a requircment of most current plant breeding and biotechnology rescarch. Aligning these methods wilh farmers' knowledge systems and praelices in the fietd may be difficult. For instance, participatory approaches to plant pathotogy have been used to understand farmers' perceptions of the key disease constraints affecting bean production in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Trutmann, 1996).

The farmers did not recognize individual diseases as such, but saw them as the rcsult of certain types o[ rain. As a result farmers selected against varieties they considered 'susceptible to rain'-a statement that left pathologists none the wiser as to where their research priorities should lie. However, it is possible that the dichotomy of indigenous versus scientific knowledge systems has been overplayed and that it would be more useful to consider how lhe two systems could more effectively complement each other (Agrawal, 1995).





Lastly, the question of whether or not research will have a lasting impact in the farming cornmunity needs to be addrcssed for biotechnology-assisted PPB as for any kind of agriculturaJ research. To meet this 'sustainabiJity' challenge, the results of research-usuaJly Biotechnology-Assisted PPB: Complemenr or Con1radiction?

enhan ced germplasm- need to be of such a kind that they ca n either be multiplied and disseminated from the forma l plant breeding program or seed sector o nce the researehers are no longer involved, or renewable over the longer terrn by the farmers the m selves. Hence, 'exit strategies' are important and should be considered at the earIy stages of project formulation (Sutherland et a l, 1998). Indeed, a11 external incentives and benefi ts provided by resea rehers, including biotechnology tools or products, should be eritically cvaluated for whether or not thcy can be accessed, ge nera ted or renewed by farm ers alone in the lon ger termo This is a con siderati on th at strengthens the case for including an 'empowerment' element in even the most fun ctional typcs of participatory research.

Why Involve Biotechnology in Farmer Participatory Plant Breeding?

Ad cting biotechnology m ethods to PPB m eans a ddin g more players, higher costs, extended time-frames (a t first), an d n ew regulatory issues to what is already a chall enging form of research. Why do it?

From a plant breeder's point of view, th e reason is: because biotecnology lools can ¡nc rease genetic gai n. That ¡s, gain in whatever trait or com binat.ion of traits is of interest to the users of the erop u nder research. Any breeder- formal or informa l--con fron tcd with a possible ncw m ethod will in effect ask, How does it h elp obta in genetic gain? To an swer thi s question, researchers have developed the genetic gain equation (Box 2), an an alytical tool for estimating the ben efits of using biolechnology or any other n cw m ethod in plant breedin g.

By separating genetic ga in into its com ponents a nd quantifying them, form a l breeders can use th e equation to compare different breeding methods for lh e rate and extent of the progress th a t can be expected and fue costs that will be incurred. They can then select th e optimum method for their circumstances. Although fanners work without quantitative analytic tool s, the same components of genctic gain underlie their breeding decision s: genetic variation, phenotypic variation (resulting from interaction of genetic variation with the environment), selcction intensity, and time required for the gain.

Generally, all breeders a im to maximize variation and selection intensity, while minimizing time (Fchr, 1987; Sprague an d Eberhardt, 1977).

An important difference betwecn formal and informal plant breede rs lies in their m a nagement of spatial phenotypic variation. A forma l breeding program developing varieties for a la rge target arca will select those with mínimal variation among locations, whereas a farmer whose targel is one small farm or cven one field will seek the varieties th a t do best in that s ite, regardless of their performa nce elsewhere. All Fanner Participatory Research and Plan.! Breeding

–  –  –

breeders, however, lend lo seek to minimize the temporal component of phe notypic variation.

Heritability is the ratio of two of the components of genetic gain fo r a given Lrait: gen otypic variation and phenotypic variation (Lush, 1945;

Feldman, 1992). Low heritability characterizes so rne of lhe traits rnost irnportant to rarmers at al1 times and places. such as yield per se, yield stability, cookin g quality, and processing quality. A s ignifican t proporti on of th e va riation in these traits is cau sed by lhe environm en t, so repeated measurcment of the traits across locations and/or years is required to ide ntify desirable genotypes accurate ly.

Conversely, traits with high hentability and littic environmental effect require less errort in selection. Stem and nower color are examples of traits with hjgh heritabi1ity.

Any bíotechnology tool ¡ntended to fad l¡tate plant breeding can be evaluated for ¡ts effect on the cornponents of gen etic gaín and on heritability. Although the vocabulary they use may d iffer, both formal

and informal plant breeders will ask whether lhe tool can:

–  –  –

For example, a breeder, whether formal or informal, might ask if biotechnology can offer ways of enhancing the selection process so as to circumvent an age-old problem that has led to the steady redu ction of varietal diversity in farmers' fields: the requirements of both traditional and industrialized agriculture for key marke t traits that often ha ve low and complex heritability (e.g., bread-mak1ng quaJity in wheats). These requirements Iimit the amount of diversity that can be retained by breeders, bccause the use of crosses with diverse parents to broaden the genetic base of the crop will break up the favorable genetic linkage blocks th a t create the desired market q u a lity (Spillane and Gepts, 2000). The resulting progeny a re unusable, even if tbey have other desirable traits. For example, the red secd color ofbeans required in sorne Central American countries is a highly complex trait that tends to get lost when crosses are made, with the resu lt that many otherwise desirable progeny are unusa ble (S. Beebe, pers. comm.). The preferred cooking quality that limits farmers on Colombia's north coast to one disease-susceptible variety of cassava ís similarly lost in the progeny of crosses (Thro et al, 1997). If biotechnology can increase the precision with which these traits can be handled, many more breeding populations could be moved off th e research station and on to farmers' fields, promoting in situ variation cons iderably (S. Beebe, pers. cornm.).

Costs and Benefits oC Biotechnology-Assisted Participatory Plant Breeding Because biotechnology-assisted PPB wiU require significant invesUnents of time and other resource s from both farmers and biotechnologists, it becomes both importan t and difficult to weigh its costs against its potentiaJ benefits.

ConventionaJ plant breeding has proved highly cost-eITective for sorne cnvironments and farmers. The costs and benefits of PPB and PVS have not yet been comprehen sively evaluated (J. Sumberg, pers.

comm.; Okali et al, 1994). although studi es are under way and fi.r m results are expected by 2002 (L. Sperling, pers. cornm,). A similar queslion pertains to tbe costs a nd bene fits of plant biotechnology, because of its relative youth as an a pplied science. Even in the developed countries, where extensive biotechnology rescarch is under way, there are many more products in th e pipeline th a n there are in farmers' fields.

Farrncr participa tion in research may not always be absolu tely necessary or represent best vaJue for money (Magrath e t al, 1997).

Sorne cornrnentators noted that, where upstream re search is seeking guidance, quicker and cheaper metbods, such as literature review, consultation with local experts, and focussed workshops, may give as good or better results than extensive dialogue between farmers and researchers (A. Sutherland, pers. comm.).

Farmer Particip atory Research and Plan1 Breeding

–  –  –

3. Needs Assessment and Priority Setting Why Involve Resource-Poor Farmers in Priority Setting for Biotechnology Research?

Involving farrners or their organizations in setting research priorities helps ensu re that formal plant breeding develops material that will be in popular demand (Ashby and Sperling, 1994). A relatively small pro porti an of global agricultural biotechnology research is currentIy targetted specifically at the needs or even to the crops of resource-poor fa rmers in developing countries (Spillane, 1999; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1999), Arnong th e few examples are the work of the international agricultura! research centers (lARes), the Center for the Application oC Molecular Biology to International Agriculture (CAMBIA), Canberra, Australia, the Plant Science Prograrnme of the UK's Depa rtrnent for lnternational Development (DFID). the Cassava Biotechnology Network (CBN) coordinated by the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), and the RockeCeller Foundation's Rice Research Network. Just as sorne plant biotechnologies may be able to facilitate PPB, so farmer participatory research could help make publicsector biotechnology research more demand-driven.

Although many resource-poor farmers in developing countries have h eard of biotechnology through the popular press (L. E. Herazo, pers.



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