International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Boosting Crop Biodiversity in Malawi


Global Impact of Local Farmers 

Lilongwe, Malawi, 8 March 2018 – “What the farmers in Malawi’s Mzuzu district are doing in their fields through this Benefit-sharing Fund project is important for their families and their local communities, but also for the global community,” said Hanne Maren Blåfjelldall, Norway’s Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Food, during a Press Conference in Lilongwe, marking the end of a three-day field visit that took the visiting delegation from Norway and the FAO International Treaty deep into rural Malawi. “I am impressed by how much they are able to do with so little,” she added.

The Norwegian Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food joined FAO’s International Treaty Secretary in Malawi this week on a very special field mission to visit farmers’ fields in Mzuzu district in northern Malawi, to witness first-hand the impacts of a multi-country project supported by the International Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund.

“It is wonderful to see the Benefit-sharing Fund at work on the ground, in smallholder farms in Malawi, where they are working to reintroduce local crop varieties, such as sorghum, pearl and finger millet, pigeon peas and cowpeas, many of which had been lost, but are back, offering increased diversity, greater resilience against climate change and higher nutrition to farmers’ families and to us all,” said Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, who organized this special field visit in coordination with Norway, FAO Regional Office in Malawi and partner organizations in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The International Treaty helps connect local communities to the larger global community. Through the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing of the International Treaty, farmers, plant breeders and scientists around the world can exchange essential information and material for breeding the crops they need. The Benefit-sharing Fund allows farmers in different countries to share the seeds and know-how that they need in their local communities.

“This multi-country project demonstrates how the International Treaty is helping conserve biodiversity both at the local level and at a global level – by helping farmers on the ground and by sharing knowledge and material across borders around the world,” said International Treaty Secretary Nnadozie.

Norway is among the longtime supporters of the International Treaty and of its Benefit-sharing Fund, which invests in projects in developing countries, aimed at conserving and sustainably using agricultural biodiversity. For the last 10 years, Norway has contributed a percentage of its annual seed sales (0.1 %) to support the Benefit-sharing Fund.

“To safeguard our seeds and make them available to farmers and to breeders are the reasons why Norway has invested in Svalbard (global seed vault), and why we are involved in the International Treaty and the Benefit-sharing Fund. It is about people, about farmers and about their capacity to feed us,” said Deputy Minister Blåfjelldal.

The visiting delegation met and spoke with local farmers who attend Farmer Field Schools organized through the International Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund project in Malawi, saw demonstration plots where farmers try planting new and lost traditional varieties and then select the crops they want to plant in their own fields. The visiting dignitaries also attended a rural Seed and Food Fair, where they were met with a warm cultural welcome of song and dance, and a gathering of about 200 farmers from neighboring areas who displayed a vast variety of seeds from the crops they are cultivating in their fields, shared their traditional food and spoke with the visitors.

“During this trip, we have met real people,” said Deputy Minister Blåfjelldal. “We have seen the local seed banks. We have seen test fields where the seeds are being used, and we have seen farmers sharing their knowledge,” she added. “The local and global are connected. We are all working towards the same goals: feeding our children, making a better future for all of our children.”

“Farmers play a very fundamental role in society,” said Secretary Nnadozie. “Sometimes the role they play is not given sufficient recognition and support. The International Treaty recognizes the tremendous role of small farmers in ensuring food security.”

The project sites visited during this field visit are part of an on-going three-country project, involving Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which is part of the third project cycle of the Benefit-sharing Fund, “Policies and practices to facilitate the implementation of developed Strategic Action Plans for Plant Genetic Resources conservation and use for the improvement of food and nutrition security under changing climatic conditions.” The project is being executed by International Treaty partner organizations, the Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), the Center for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) and the Biodiversity Conservation Institute (BCI), reaching an estimated 8500 households, almost half of whom are female farmers.

This marks the first time the International Treaty Secretariat has gone into the field with a major donor to witness a project supported through the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Since 2009, the Benefit-sharing Fund has invested approximately USD 20 million in 61 projects in 55 developing countries, benefitting about 1 million people. 


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