The benefits of traditional crop varieties versus hybrid or “improved” crops have long been debated by farmers, scientists, and rural development specialists. The hybrid sorghum varieties developed by Malian breeders promise to produce higher yields, while maintaining the drought resistance associated with regular varieties.
While hybrids generally promise to address the shortcomings of regular varieties, there are many concerns about their use. Farmers who use hybrid seeds must normally purchase them anew each year. This is because, if you save seeds from hybrids and then plant them, the results are not predictable.
Another common concern about hybrid seeds is that they may require more inputs, such as chemical fertilizer and pesticides (though this is not the case with the hybrid sorghum varieties developed in Mali). Even so, many farmers have found that hybrid seeds are the best option for their farms.
Farm Radio Weekly has produced a number of stories which look at farmer success with hybrid seeds and traditional crops, including:
-“Liberia: Women mix indigenous and NERICA rice in effort to bridge ‘hunger gap’ ” (FRW#66, May 2009):
-“Zimbabwe: Government promotes open-pollinated seeds over hybrids ” (FRW#47, December 2008)
-“Uganda: Farmers, scientists encourage preservation of traditional crops ” (FRW#33, August 2008)
-“Uganda: Improved seeds improve livelihoods for women ” (FRW #27, July 2008)
You may also refer to these Farm Radio International scripts which discuss the benefits of crop diversification for family income and health, and offer tips on experimenting with new varieties:
-“Comparing crop varieties: Start small, go slowly ” (Package 68, Script 8, September 2003)
-“Diversify crops to keep your family healthy ” (Package 65, Script 1, October 2002)
-“Diversity beats disease in the rice field ” (Package 58, Script 3, January 2001)
-“Radio spots: Grow many different crops and crop varieties ” (Package 56, Script 4, July 2000)
You may consider hosting an on-air panel discussion among experts, including farmers, about traditional crops and the use of hybrids. Be sure to allow time for listening farmers to call or text-in their questions or describe their experiences. Some questions you may consider important for discussion include:
-What are the area’s traditional crops? What are some of the benefits of these crops, such as adaptation to the land and climate, nutrition, taste, etc? Do many farmers still grow these crops, and on what scale?
-Do farmers in the area use hybrid seeds? Where are they purchased and how much do they cost? Are chemical inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides required to grow these hybrids? What precautions should farmers take to protect their family’s food security when trying a new hybrid variety?