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Are farmers realising the genetic gains?

By: Manzoor Dar

Are we able to understand the concerns regarding the inability of farmers to realize the genetic gains and the need for more effective breeding strategies? It is indeed a complex issue, and here is my view about it.

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that releasing more varieties alone does not necessarily benefit farmers if these varieties do not offer significant improvements over existing ones. This is why breeding programs should focus on developing varieties with traits that directly address the needs and challenges faced by farmers, such as increased yield, disease resistance, or drought tolerance. Releasing varieties that are not substantially better than existing ones would not lead to significant genetic gains.

One important aspect to consider is the flaws in trialing systems, particularly the multi-location trials and the quality of data obtained from them. If the data collected during these trials is not accurate or representative of real-world conditions, it can lead to the release of varieties that are not as effective as claimed. Ensuring the reliability and quality of trial data is crucial to avoid such discrepancies. How many initiatives do we have to ensure data quality particularly from the national partners working on the collaborative trials or for that matter the traditional coordinated trials?

One of the challenges faced in the agricultural sector is the large number of varieties that are released, but only a few actually reach the farmers. In the race to release new varieties, particularly by the public sector, there is often a tendency to release sister lines that do not serve the intended purpose. This leads to confusion among the stakeholders involved in the seed value chain.

it is important to ensure that the seed system stakeholders have enough time to scale up the production of these varieties and the farmers to realize their benefits. If multiple varieties are produced every year, there may not be sufficient time for the stakeholders to produce seeds, resulting in the underutilization of breeding investments. Seed systems research emphasizes the need for a time lag to allow potential new varieties to reach at a stable adoption stage. This approach enables breeders to focus on developing better varieties with more genetic gains, rather than simply bombarding farmers with a multitude of choices that are not significantly different from each other.

it is also crucial to recognize that breeding breakthrough crop varieties is a challenging task as there are limitations in achieving genetic gains beyond a certain number due to various factors. These include the complexity of the traits being targeted and the genetic diversity available in the breeding population. It is not always possible to achieve unprecedented genetic gains with every new release but the question remains if we should advance any material that has no potentiality for genetic gains? Then I will have a concern about investing hugely in modern breeding techniques without any evidence of achieving genetic gains. While modern techniques offer promising tools to accelerate the breeding process, should traditional breeding also need equal attention to fully exploit its potential for genetic gains?

Seed systems research can play a vital role in ensuring that new crop varieties are effectively translated from the breeding programs to the farmers’ fields. By working closely with the stakeholders involved in the seed system, it helps in identifying and promoting the most suitable varieties, which ultimately leads to the successful utilization of breeding investments and the development of improved crop varieties for the farmers.

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