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A workshop on Organic Seed Systems and Participatory Plant Breeding held at HDRA on Tuesday 20 February will give growers, researchers and advisors the opportunity to discuss and learn from experiences in the UK, Europe and Cuba.

With the rise of intensive agriculture, conventional breeding techniques have focused on high input monoculture systems and the farmer has almost become completely divorced from the selection and breeding process. Consequently, only 3% of the plant varieties available in agriculture are in use today.

Participatory plant breeding techniques aim to halt this genetic erosion by involving farmers and maintaining diversity. In this respect, countries such as Cuba may be more advanced than the UK and there is much we can learn from their experiences in participatory plant breeding. A workshop at HDRA will address key issues of organic seed production and provides the opportunity to discuss experiences from the UK, Europe and further a field.

Martin Wolfe, research director at Elm Farm Research Centre will give an insight into his research into novel planting arrangements and participatory breeding techniques in the UK. He is a strong believer that conventional modern breeding techniques involving monocultures are not the only way forward.

From HDRA, Phil Sumption will recount the successes and challenges of farmer involvement in variety trials and Helena Sanchez-Girandez will give an overview of the participatory plant breeding network in Europe. Since the late 1980s, Cuba has faced the challenge of feeding itself without access to agrochemicals and has turned to more diverse, traditional methods of agriculture and plant breeding.

Dr Humberto Ríos Labrada, researcher in plant breeding in Havana will recount some of these experiences with small-scale farmer groups throughout much of Latin America. Outside his busy work schedule, Dr Ríos Labrada leads a band with vocals and percussion, and co-writes the songs - often agriculturally related. An open discussion will identify ways forward for participatory approaches in agriculture and participants have the option of a tour around HDRAs heritage seed library.

Source: Fresh Plaza

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