About Kew's 'Difficult' Seeds Project
The ‘Difficult’ Seeds Project works with crop gene banks and farmers to conserve plants used for food and agriculture in Africa. The aims of the project are to improve the identification, handling, storage and use of seeds that have described as ‘difficult’ by gene bank managers and technicians.
W. Stuppy, RBG Kew
Seeds are prepared for long term conservation in seed banks through drying and freezing. The difficulty of conserving recalcitrant seeds for any length of time is well known. Other seeds may be easy to conserve but difficult to grow because they require very specific germination conditions or dormancy-breaking treatments. If seeds have been subject to poor collection, handling or storage practices, they may have become damaged so are of little use. It is especially important that we overcome these difficulties so that we can make better use of crop wild relatives and so-called under-utilised species.
The project is delivered by Kew, with funding from the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Addressing the need to build capacity to conserve plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, set out in international conservation targets, the project also hopes to benefit farmers and community groups aiming to store seeds and maintain seed quality.
Article 5.1(e) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) commits contracting parties to promote the development and transfer of appropriate technologies for ex-situ conservation, with a view to improving the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Action 19 of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA) prioritises the expansion and improvement of education and training. The project will also contribute to Article 5.1(c) of the ITPGRFA, to promote or support farmer and local community efforts to conserve plant genetic resources for food and agriculture on-farm. The project focuses on ITPGRFA Annex I crops and forages, non-Mediterranean vegetables and tropical forages.
Stakeholder Workshops for gene bank managers were held in 2006, to establish the aims of the project and guidelines for future activities. These included:
- providing training in techniques and methods for handling ‘difficult’ seeds;
- compiling and facilitating access to scientific and technical information;
- facilitating the acquisition of basic technical equipment; and
- supporting and facilitating gene banks to engage with farmers.
Training Workshops for gene bank technicians took place in 2007-8. These workshops also included associated farmers sessions, to benefit local farmers from the four host countries. The training workshops were successful and received positive feedback from participants.
A list of species with 'difficult' seeds was put together as a result of feedback from managers, technicians and farmers attending these workshops.
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