Ethiopia is one of Africa's major wheat producing countries. But it might surprise you to learn that conventional bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, the most common species produced worldwide) only entered the country in the 1940s. For the previous 5,000 years, Ethiopian agriculture had counted on a myriad of durum wheat varieties (Triticum turgidum ssp. durum, the closely related species ideal for making pasta), which are still consumed in many ways.
Already grappling with drought and soil degradation, Ethiopian farmers know that they cannot rely on a single type of wheat, bred solely with productivity in mind. Matteo Dell'Acqua, a plant geneticist from the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, has been working with Ethiopian farmers to devise new ways to permanently integrate their knowledge in the agricultural innovation process. He says that farmers are searching at the varietal level for useful traits: "Farmers look at what they see in their own fields, which may be different from breeding programs' expectations due to specific environmental, cultural and management conditions. They select varieties with better adaptation to local uses and cropping."
Farmers selecting for the future
"Farmers' knowledge is a scientific quantity that can contribute to breeding outcomes," says Dell'Acqua. "This is not to say that farmers should replace breeders and scientists; we think that these data-driven methods can help capture the complexity of the real world and factoring it in breeding decisions that are targeted to user needs. Farmers can be a complement of this process. Their full integration would not only benefit the selection of most appropriate varieties, as we show in this paper, but would also serve to foster an appropriate recognition of farmer communities and of cultural heritage in producing better agrobiodiversity and sharing it in the wider world for the benefit of humanity."
Fadda says, "Africa is rich in agrobiodiversity: with species, varieties, and associated traditional knowledge. This study shows that in order to achieve accelerated resilience and sustainability in agriculture, both African crops' genetic diversity and associated knowledge must be mainstreamed in agricultural research and development strategies."Click here to see more...