International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

BSF Project - Fourth Cycle

Redesigning the exploitation of small grains genetic resources towards increased sustainability of grain-value chain and improved farmers’ livelihoods in Serbia and Bulgaria - GRAINEFIT
Where are we working?

The negative effects of climate change on small grains production, as well as on food security and nutrition, genetic diversity on farms, employment and the mass movement of young people to cities present serious problems in rural areas of Bulgaria and Serbia, especially for small-scale agricultural households. Despite increasing demands for commercial products based on local small grains with good nutritional value and fewer food allergens, farmers' awareness of the benefits of local varieties is inadequate. In addition, there is little coordination in the setting up of partnerships among farmers’ associations, researchers, national authorities and civil society organizations to develop climate-resilient crops and create new business opportunities to improve farmers' livelihoods.

What are we doing?

The project is currently carrying out the following activities:
  • Collection missions in remote rural areas.
  • Disseminating seeds to vulnerable farmers for conservation and farm diversification.
  • Building capacities of women and men farmers to sustainably use and manage small grains genetic resources resilient to a changing climate.
  • Strengthening farmers’ cooperation with research institutions, agricultural extension agents, civil society organizations and other stakeholders across the seed value chain.
  • Building knowledge and skills to advance implementation of the International Treaty, especially those of young scientists and women researchers, through training and the transfer of knowledge and experience.
  • Promoting plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) in demonstration fields and during field days at community level.
  • Evaluating agronomic performance of local genetic resources under changing climate conditions.

What has been achieved to date?

  • In total, 141 landraces and locally adapted varieties of wheat, barley, oats and rye have been collected from farms, gene banks and national institutes, and then multiplied.
  • The most vulnerable farming communities have received 197 kg of seeds from 15 different local varieties for conservation and diversification of on-farm production, to contribute to climate resilience.
  • Scientific support, training and know-how have been provided to 36 local farmers, to facilitate decision-making.
  • Three field days and two demonstration events at community level have been organized for 1 000 participants, including farmers, students and staff from national extension services and research institutes, to promote on-farm use of small grains genetic resources, acknowledging traditional agricultural practices.
  • Two experimental field trials have been set up to evaluate the most important agronomical traits – resistance to disease and drought tolerance – of 120 local small grains genotypes in Bulgaria and Serbia.
  • Standard and modified methods for cereal quality and safety assessment methods have been validated.
  • A roundtable has brought together 80 key stakeholders to foster cooperation, present successful case studies and discuss opportunities for marketing products based on local plant genetic resources.
  • Fifteen local farmers, 4 civil society organizations, 8 small-scale food producers and 2 millers have been linked to promote products based on local adapted varieties and sell them at a food festival.
  • A workshop on the use of wheat genetic resources to prepare traditional cereal meals and engage in straw craft has been organized for 30 village women.
  • The seeds of 96 traditional local varieties and landraces of wheat, rye, barley and oats have been deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The accessions have been made available according to the terms and conditions of the Multilateral System.

Who has benefited?

Direct beneficiaries of the project are 36 small-scale vulnerable farmers, 50 percent of them women, 3 local farmers’ associations, 1 community seed bank, 3 civil society organizations supporting sustainable agriculture, ethnic and gender equality, 3 small-scale processing entrepreneurs, 5 agricultural extension services, 25 scientists involved in characterization genotyping, technological quality analyses, supporting farmers and linking them with other stakeholders, and 2 national gene banks. Indirect beneficiaries are 1 000 farmers who took part in training, workshops and field demonstrations, 5 young women scientists, 20 female and 31 male students and 5 policy-makers at regional and national level, as well as the wider public.

Best practices and success stories

Raising awareness among farmers of the importance of PGRFA for food security has been identified as critical for a revival of interest in the conservation of small grains genetic resources on farms. Taking into account the age, social status, gender, education, culture and customs of local communities is essential in order to improve perceptions of the value of diverse traditional varieties and landraces, and farmers’ readiness to adopt them. Lost crop diversity is closely linked to the loss of indigenous knowledge and traditional practices held in the keeping of ageing rural people, who now have diminishing influence on younger generations. To address this problem, the project focused separately on youth, women and men farmers.
For all three groups, pinpointing influential individuals who serve as a motivational force in their local communities proved to be an effective strategy. Young people were successfully approached and motivated through agricultural school visits and hands-on training, as well as social networks and multimedia channels. Recognizing locally respected and influential farmers, who can facilitate communication with their communities, has helped to revive interest in PGRFA among men farmers, and has also assisted with seed distribution. Examples of such figures include founders of community seed banks.
Demonstration field trials and workshops on the use of wheat genetic resources to prepare traditional cereal meals and engage in straw craft have been a successful example of raising awareness among women farmers of the benefits of local varieties. Besides improving the availability of and access to landraces and local varieties of wheat, barley, oats and rye, the project has provided farmers with technical support and know-how for low-input, organic and conventional production in different agro-environments. The approach has resulted in positive feedback and the distribution of nearly 200 kg of seeds in less than two years.
Barley, Oat, Rye, Wheat
Window 2 - Immediate action projects
Region: Europe
Target Countries: Bulgaria, Serbia
Implementing institution: Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, Novi Sad, Serbia. Links to dedicated websites:, Twitter, Linkedin
Contributing Donors: Directorate for National Reference Laboratories, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, Republic of Serbia
Partners involved: 1. Institute of Food Technology, Novi Sad, Serbia 2. AgroBioInstitute, Sofia, Bulgaria 3. Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, Sadovo, Bulgaria
Contact details: Sanja Mikić, Small Grains Department, Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, Novi Sad, Serbia, ([email protected])

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