Seed varieties used in Yemen within rain-fed farming systems were no longer traditional seeds that are adapted to the local agricultural ecosystem. Traditional seeds selection and conservation techniques disappeared because of recurrent drought and migration of farmers. Traditional seeds have been replaced by unknown imported seeds found on local markets, which were not adapted to local agro systems. The consequence was a significant reduction in crop yield, agricultural production, and food security.
The promotion of on-farm conservation and improvement of key local seed varieties, with full participation of farmers, is being done through effective collaboration between national and international research institutions, the General Seed Multiplication Corporation (GSMC), seed producer groups (including male and female farmers ) and the Social Fund for Development (SFD) which supports seed producer groups. Research institutions are working with seed producer groups to collect the traditional seed varieties, to identify the genetic characteristics of collected varieties, to conserve them and to improve their performance (known as the massal selection process). Seed producer groups, with support from GSMC and SFD, are responsible for the multiplication and dissemination of improved local seeds to local farmers for use in rain-fed agriculture.
Between 2008 and 2010, the project collected 1,775 varieties; special characteristics of 1,300 of them have been identified and conserved at the gene bank of the local Agricultural Research and Extension Agency. More specifically:
- Farmers and local researchers identified 31 priority seed varieties that went through a purification/improvement process to improve their fit and adaptation to the local climat.
- Preliminary field results from the first improvement cycle have already shown yield improvement that varies between 25 percent and 32 percent
- Already 95 tons of priority traditional, cleaned local seed varieties have been produced by local Seed Producer Groups.
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Total project (100 percent IDA) cost is US$20 million out of which US$2.9 million is allocated for seed conservation and land races improvement, promotion of seed producer groups and seed dissemination.
The project has developed a strong partnership between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the Yemeni Agricultural Research and Extension Agency and Aden and Sanaa Universities to identify local traditional seeds and improve priority seeds chosen by local farmers so that they are better suited to local conditions.
Toward the Future
This Rain-fed Agriculture and Livestock Project initiative on land races conservation and improvement led to the preparation of a similar, larger project (US$4 million from the GEF), the Agro Bio-Diversity and Climate Adaptation Project that has been effective since September 2010, which scales up ongoing efforts and covers a wider area of Yemen.
The project reached a primary target group consisted of 60,000 inhabitants across 52,000 households in the rural communities, including farmers and small landholders with marginal and fragile lands on steep slopes.