From 1994 to 1999, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) assessed the impact of the existing range of maize germplasm on poor farmers in the Guangxi province of south-west China. The study showed that there was a systematic separation between the formal and farmers’ seeds systems. This led to inadequate variety development, poor adoption of modern varieties, a decreasing genetic base and biodiversity in farmers’ fields. Although there are more than 16,000 varieties of maize germplasm collected in China, 53% of total maize growing areas are covered by just 5 dominant species. In Guangxi, the local germplasm collection has around 2,700 entries, but only 3 main hybrids are generally used, all of which show poor adaptability for the diverse and fragile agro-ecological conditions in the province, as well as disease susceptibility.
A team of local farmers and the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy and Guangxi Maize Research institute carried out trials in 6 villages and on-station using both participatory plant breeding (PPB) and participatory varietal selection (PVS) methods. Tests compared the impacts of the locality, approach, objectives and varieties selected. The maize varieties compared included open-pollinated varieties, waxy varieties and those introduced by CIMMYT, some of which were already improved with local crossings. The new varieties developed from these crossings showed better adaptation to the local environment with desired traits for yield, taste and palatability. Whilst germplasm diversity improved so did the local level organisational and decision-making capacity of farmers.
In addition to 31 varieties of maize, there are now 17 types of bean, 16 vegetables, 14 cereals, 8 root crops, and an assortment of traditional herbs, spices and medicinal plants, almost all of which are farmer-developed. Now in its second phase, the project is attempting to link community-based action research with the policy-making process by increasing efforts to engage directly with key decision-makers in the policy arena at both the provincial and national levels. A better understanding of farmers’ roles has enabled their participation. In part, this is due to the project team providing training and network building support, facilitating effective interaction and collaboration between all of the stakeholders: 5 women’s groups, 6 villages, 6 township extension stations and 2 formal breeding institutes.