Marginal Agricultural Production Systems

Farmer Breeding

There are now substantial data and evidence that smallholder farmers in marginal areas maintain and select among their landraces, and that this can be considered traditional breeding or management of diversity11 as well as conservation of that diversity. In the crops they plant, they select for those criteria that allow for greatest resistance across several competing characteristics: straw versus grain, hardiness/rusticity versus yield, cultural preferences in flavor and appearance over total calories. Examples are adaptation to microenvironments, environmental stresses or biological hazards such as pests. In genetic terms, this adaptation is often not based on single characters but is multi-locus, with complex inheritance or co-

adapted gene complexes. Breeding this type of diversity is something that farmers do well.

Community-Based Conservation Systems

Agricultural land, grazing lands, agro-forestry areas and village gardens are often held in common by a community, especially in marginal areas of developing countries. The rural poor may derive as much as 30% of their food for consumption as well as market income from community land. In the process, the community farmers are involved in the in situ conservation of landraces, agroforestry species and wild species. Often small community-based in situ conservation sites are the sole repositories of particular crop varieties adapted to their specific environments.

The use of unique, diverse and adapted genetic resources is something that marginal areas are noted for. By taking agriculture into the extremes or limits of their growing areas, farmers have provided the world with unique adaptive characters. The main vehicle for ensuring the conservation of many landraces and forestry species is through the maintenance of these species in their native habitats or in farmers' fields, protected areas and home gardens.

The value of these methods of in situ conservation of plant genetic resources lies in the fact that they involve conservation not only of species and within species diversity, but also of ecosystems. It allows for continued evolution and adaptation of plant populations in their native habitats. It can also be an effective component of sustainable development strategies and can increase control of traditional farmers and communities, especially in marginal areas, over their own resources.

Seed Exchange And Supply Systems

In marginal agricultural areas, seed supply systems are often a "home-grown" affair. Formal, large scale commercial seed suppliers, while their reach is now extending into the less favored agricultural production areas, are not the primary means of seed supply to smallholders and poor farmers in developing countries. These farmers have traditionally created their own seed supplies by saving seeds from one harvest to sow for the next season. They have also traditionally formed informal seed exchange networks, which are particularly prevalent for the minor and underutilized crop species which are neither cost effective nor profitable for formal commercial seed development and distribution systems to handle. It is estimated that "80 to 100% of the production of planting material takes place in the informal sector in developing countries."12

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