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Innovative tools to match seeds to the needs of women farmers in Ethiopia

Ehsan Dulloo's picture

Climate change poses a serious threat to future food security. Increases in temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are expected to increase food shortages, especially in Africa. In response, governments and scientists are looking for ways to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on food production.

Ethiopia, which has a strong history of conserving its food crops, has partnered with the CGIAR-supported Bioversity International to implement a World Bank Development Marketplace 2009 winning project called Innovative Pilot Scheme Would Match Seeds to the Needs of Women Farmers. The project works to ensure farmers, particularly women farmers, will have an assured supply of climate-tolerant seeds for food production as climatic conditions change in the future.

Ethiopia’s Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (IBC), which safeguards Africa’s oldest gene bank, together with scientists from Bioversity International, are testing and evaluating the suitability of local varieties of barley and durum wheat conserved in the genebank to determine whether they will be able to withstand drought and elevated temperatures.

Project Launched
The project was launched at an inception workshop in April 2009, ahead of the official start of the project, to ensure that we did not miss the growing season. The inception workshop was crucial for defining the project work plan and agreeing on the methodologies to be applied in the project’s implementation.

Locally adapted varieties identified
Durum wheat and barley were identified from 30,000 samples housed at the IBC gene bank. Specimens which have the highest potential for local adaptation were selected. Information about all the samples in the gene bank was collated and geographic information system (GIS) was used to identify a list of 100 varieties of each crop to be tested out by farmers at the project sites. GIS will also be used to develop prediction of climate change patterns in Ethiopia and make an analysis of crop suitability and distribution.

Participatory Field evaluation
Alganesh Tesema, IBC team leader, responsible for the project in Ethiopia, and her co-workers organized the preparation of the seeds of the selected 100 local varieties of durum wheat and barley. The same varieties were planted at each of the three project sites (Ejerie, Koka and Cheffe Donsa). Sites were selected to represent an altitudinal gradient for the climate change evaluation. 

Alganesh worked with local extension officers in each of the villages and organized meetings with elder women in the community to make the evaluation of the varieties. This was a great opportunity for women farmers to recount the experiences they are facing as a consequence of climate change.  The women farmers offered their land for the evaluation of the varieties. Alganesh also involved young female students from the school in the project to help raise local awareness of the project.  

The event was received local media coverage. Watch this video to learn more about the project.

Project Featured in Cancun
Bioversity and IBC also participated in the Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the UNFCCC in Cancun, Mexico. The project was featured during Agriculture Day in Cancun where the Ethiopian Seeds for Needs project was highlighted.

Next steps
Currently all the varieties that have been collected from the field are being measured and the evaluation data will then be analyzed. Plans are also under way to carry out socio economic surveys which will capture the indigenous knowledge of farmers on the more recent effects of climate change in the project sites.

The two-day inception workshop was jointly organized by IBC and Bioversity International and was attended by 33 participants mainly from IBC and various other project stakeholders from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MOARD), Environment Protection Authority of Ethiopia, World Bank, Bioversity International, farmers’ communities and National Radio Station.