Report Synopsis

Exploring the Viability and the Impact of Participatory Plant Breeding from Seed to Table

Shelley Spruit

My concern is that Canadian farmers remain competitive and market-adaptable, resilient and financially viable in the face of climate change. Seed line selection is a key part of plant breeding. Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) involves farmers as active partners with research stations in this selection throughout the breeding process.

Two questions undergird my Nuffield-sponsored explorations:

  1. How is Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) a viable response for adapting to the challenges of climate change?
  2. What impact is PPB making in agroecology’s heritage grain networks from seed to table?

Until recently, most participatory plant breeding (PPB) programs were located in developing countries and their practical relevance for developed agricultural systems was questioned. However, due to the increase in dramatic climate changes now facing Canadian farmers , PPB grain research is quickly emerging as a highly relevant and necessity-driven response to weather challenges. Because no single mechanism can guarantee resilience, PPB is able to increase genetic diversity conservation by ensuring farm participation in the crucial years of growing out the new varieties. Given unpredictable weather patterns, self-replicating seed stock contributes to greater seed adaptability and plant resilience within the Canadian food system.

Thanks to Nuffield, I probed PPB and various network partners in eleven countries, including attendance at four international conferences and a one-day Canadian conference. Within the climate change context, I discovered that PPB plays an important, contributory role in agroecology, an evolving transdisciplinary field strongly endorsed by the United Nations. PPB will also contribute to implementing Canada’s new National Food Policy with its budgeted support for a Local Food Infrastructure Fund.

While all effective PPB developments are locally oriented by environmental necessity, PPB also requires food network partners. Thus, terroir identities and scaling niche markets serve as representative examples of important emerging trends awaiting further development.

To offer applications in the Canadian agriculture industry, I offer recommendations in three areas: participatory plant breeding projects; seed to table network partners and institutional or governmental policy making.

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