Cornell inaugurates new seed systems initiative in Nepal

Sarala Sharma, fourth from left, plant pathologist with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, gives farmers a field tour as part of the Seed Systems for Nepal inauguration activities.

“I have been farming for the last 50 years. I have seen production dwindling slowly and steadily, erratic climatic conditions, bad seeds and lack of finance as key issues which have led to the fall of prosperity for farmers,” said Hari Baktha Dhakal from the Chitwan region of Nepal, one of more than 200 farmers who gathered for the inauguration of the Seed Systems for Nepal initiative Jan. 23.

“We are working closely with farmers in Nepal and partnering with the Agriculture and Forestry University, or AFU, on quality seed production, processing and distribution,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director of science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project at Cornell, which is helping spearhead the initiative. “The 200 farmers will form the basis of the new seed ‘village’ that is being developed to help produce quality seed in Nepal. This is a unique seed initiative within the DGGW where we are working directly with farmers.”

Acevedo was one of three Cornell faculty attending the event, along with Ronnie Coffman, director of International Programs, and K.V. Raman, plant breeder and geneticist.

“Seed processing and seed testing are absolutely critical when it comes to delivering genetic gains to farmers,” Coffman said at the event. “The goal of the DGGW is to develop wheat that meets multiple challenges that face wheat farmers in Africa and South Asia – wheat that is high-yielding, disease-resistant, and heat and drought tolerant.”

Chitwan is one of the most fertile regions in Nepal. Farmers there – most of whom are smallholder peasant farmers who grow wheat, rice and maize in rotation – are responsible for much of Nepal’s wheat production.

“Seed Systems for Nepal will involve women’s empowerment, whole family participation in varietal selection, and entrepreneurship for sustainable livelihood and overall development,” said Kannan Vijayaraghavan, chairman of Sathguru Management Consultants, a partner in the project.

At the Jan. 23 event, farmers, DGGW representatives and dignitaries from the Planning Commission and the Agricultural Ministry of Nepal saw the unveiling of the new seed processing machinery at AFU. The equipment has the capacity to process one ton per hour and is appropriate for small-batch processing and can be used for wheat, rice and maize. It includes a seed dryer, pre-cleaner, cleaner, gravity separator, seed treatment, weighing and packaging units, and equipment that tests seed for purity, germination and moisture.

Local farmers and seed companies will have access to the unit and the services it will provide.

In the wheat season just underway in Nepal, AFU has sown foundation and certified wheat seeds on 15 hectares of land. Rust-resistant wheat varieties that are popular and suitable for growing in the region have been identified in consultation with stakeholders from AFU and the research wing of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC).

“AFU will provide training to farmers to help them adopt the best practices to produce quality seed,” Acevedo said. “In three years, we expect to see higher yields, better variety adoption and better income for farmers and their families.”

The Seed Systems Initiative is being implemented by the DGGW and Sathguru Management Consultants in cooperation with the AFU and NARC. The DGGW project is headquartered at Cornell University and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development under its UK Aid program.

Venkat Aditya is director of communications for Sathguru. 

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Melissa Osgood