Nelly Bassily | August 18, 2008
The benefits of traditional crop varieties versus hybrid or “improved” crops have long been debated by farmers, scientists, and rural development specialists. The experience of Ephrance Nakamya illustrates some of the pros and cons of planting hybrid crops. While hybrids are typically engineered to resist pests and produce high yields, their seeds cannot usually be saved. Thus, farmers who use hybrid seeds must purchase them anew each year. Another common concern about hybrid seeds is that they require more inputs, such as chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Even still, many farmers have found that hybrid seeds are the best option for their farms.
This story also deals with concerns about hybrid crops that extend beyond the individual farmer and their yields. A large civil society movement is working to preserve traditional crops, fearing the long-term impact of losing biodiversity through monoculture farming. They point out that beneficial genes can be lost if plant varieties disappear due to lack of interest by farmers. And while farmers may, in the short term, gain the highest profit from hybrid maize, they may need access to different varieties in the future if the environment or market conditions change. This is why Joseph Magezi encourages all farmers to seek out and grow a variety of traditional crops. He also emphasizes that many traditional crops have known medicinal properties or cultural significance, which would be lost if the plants disappear.
In the past few months, Farm Radio Weekly has produced other stories looking at farmer success with hybrid seeds and traditional crops:
–“Improved seeds improve livelihoods for women” (FRW #27, July 2008)
–“Traditional vegetables make a comeback” (FRW #22, May 2008)
You may also refer to these Farm Radio International scripts which discuss the benefits of crop diversification for family income and health, as well as tips for 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)
For even more scripts related to this important subject, visit Farm Radio International’s script banks on biodiversity (http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/biodiversity.asp) and crop production (http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/crop.asp).
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 farmers to call or text-in to ask 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?