In 1990, the Dalchowki Community Seed Bank (CSB) was created in a remote southern part of Lalitpur district in Nepal in an effort to enhance farmers’ skills and capacity to collect, document and preserve seeds of local crop varieties and promote their use.
The Dalchowki CSB successfully raised awareness about the importance of local crop diversity among communities while discouraging the use of hybrid seeds, and enhancing the capacity of farmers’ to conserve local varieties of broad leaf mustard, radish, small pea, fava bean, and cauliflower (a perennial variety).
In Nepal, according to the National Seed Law that came in effect in 1997, it is now illegal for farmers to commercially sell any local crop varieties without formal release and registration.
This new reality paired with their encouraging work is conserving quality seeds prompted the Dalchowki CSB, with technical support from SAHAS Nepal, USC Canada Asia and the National Gene Bank, to undertake the characterization and improvement of traits, multiplying seeds and registration of two varieties of a crop.
In 2011, at a seed fair exhibition, the Dalchowki CSB noticed two farmers’ varieties of broad leaf mustard: Guzmuzze and Dunde. Although only used by a few farmers, those farmers preferred them due to their high yields, cold tolerance and low disease and pest problems when compared with other popular varieties of the area. Difficulty in saving these seeds appeared to be the main reason for the crop’s limited adoption, particularly due to its late bolting characteristics, increasing aphid infestations, and cross pollination nature of the crop which gradually deteriorated in the quality of its traits.
In 2012, diversity blocks were set up in farmers’ fields in 3 village areas: Dalchoki, Ekudol and Buckhel. Seed production was done collectively and necessary data to prepare a proposal for national registration was collected. Key scientists from the Nepal Agriculture Research Council, the National Gene Bank, and the National Seed Quality Control Center helped monitor the production and conduct a participatory performance and appreciation survey with the community.
In 2013, the Community Seed Bank submitted separate registration proposal for these two varieties.
In July 2014, the Ministry of Agricultural Development approved both varieties for growing in mid- and high-altitudes (between 1500-2300 masl).
In 2014, the CSB collected and sold about 100 kg of Guzmuzze and Dunde- grossing USD 620. The goal is to triple the production in 2015.
This is the first case where a community seed bank successfully registers a local variety in the country. Registering these varieties has increased the recognition of these seeds and has motivated the Dalchowksi CSB to continue working in collaboration with government and non-governmental organizations to maintain local varieties and aim to register more.
In addition, registration of these varieties has created a precedent for community rights over local genetic resources and provided a useful case to test access and benefit sharing mechanisms in utilizing agrobiodiversity in the country.