Introduction | Objectives | Work Plan Description | Establishment of the CSB |
Management of the CSB | Training and educational program |
The collection and exchange of traditional knowledge

  Community-Based Seed Bank (CSB) for the Nablus District:
       Introduction:
        
As part of the Near East region, the Palestinian Area is considered a major world center of
            plant genetic diversity and endemism. However, over the last three decades, there has been a
            progressive decline in the number of local varieties of cereals and vegetables cultivated in
            the Palestinian area. This trend has been attributed partially to rapid changes brought about
            in agricultural technology. This technology has thus brought about genetic erosion and
            disappearance of eco-geographically adapted crop cultivars, thus limiting choices for
            farmers. Simultaneously farmers’ knowledge of seed selection, treatment and storage has
            been at risk in the process of adopting improved crop cultivars.

            Traditional local development of agriculture depends on agro-ecosystem micro adaptation.
            Adaptations of crops follow complex patterns according to soil, water, climate, topography,
            social and cultural diversity, which also affect production of crops and use. This has direct
            implication for technology development. Small- holder farms have shown great interest in
            technological innovations and new cultivars.

            The alarming rate of biodiversity and ecological destruction has now been recognized at the
            level of farmers and the state. Agenda 21 recognized the need for major adjustments in
            agricultural, environmental, and macro-economic policy, at both national and international
            levels in both developed as well as developing countries. It also calls for both ex situ and in
            situ conservation and urges that national governments to take main responsibility for
            conserving their biodiversity and for sustainable utilization of their biological resources.

            Ex situ conservation, however, has several problems related to the flow of diversity. Classical
            seed banks collect biodiversity from farmers’ fields (source), but has not been made available
            to farmers; i.e. the diversity flows from the source to genebanks and from there to the
            breeders, but not back to farmers, who are therefore deprived from playing the roles of
            conserver, innovator and consumer of genetic diversity. Stocks are thus systematically
            eroded from the source. This would obviously lead to the non-sustainability of agriculture.

            On the other hand, in situ conservation, or conservation in the farmer’s field, has not
            received adequate attention. This method of conservation is essential for a variety of
            reasons: ecological (e.g., insurance against pests, diseases, drought, and climatic changes),
            economic (e.g., strengthening internal inputs supply), nutritional, and political (e.g.,
            strengthening farmers rights).

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                It has thus become obvious that interventions must be made to address these problems and
               enable Palestinian small-holder farmers communities, especially in marginal areas, to access
                seeds, conserve, document and enhance their resources and knowledge.

    GEF has supported the implementation of a regional project (1999-2005) on agrobiodiversity
                conservation that involves countries from the Near East Region including the PA, Syria,
                Lebanon, and Jordan. The project aims at promoting the conservation of wild relatives and
                landraces of important agricultural species indigenous to the region including the Palestinian
                area.

    With GEF/SGP support, BERC has established the BERC-Til Botanic Gardens (BERC-Til BG)
                in the Nablus district. The BERC-Til BG aims at the conservation of natural plants including
                wild origins of cultivated trees and shrubs, using in-situ and ex-situ techniques; carry out
                educational programs in conservation biology; carry out research in plant sciences; and
                function as a recreational site.
                 
                In this regard a community seed bank (CSB) intervention can thus be integrated with the
                traditional community farming systems in such areas of semi-arid agriculture.

    BERC therefore has responded to the current status of indigenous crop landraces by setting
                up a CSB in the northern area of the West Bank as a complementary component of the BERC-
                Til Botanic Gardens, to function as a facility and the center for seed requirements of farmers
                in the Till village area, to enhance and keep alive the tradition of nurturing diversity through
                such aspects as: access to seed of farmers’ choice; farmers’ capacity building in producing
                desired seed of specific crop cultivars; providing strategic seed reserve in drought years;
                production of good quality seed; ensuring farmers’ seed security at household level.

    The CSB, which is an improvement over the old concept of a seed bank being a mere storage
                or retrieval mechanism and structure, also functions as a facility for on-farm germplasm
                conservation through utilization; farmer training in the modalities and rudiments of seed
                production; seed selection, treatment and storage; and exchange of germplasm, information,
                innovations and technologies between and among farmers, extension agents and
                researchers. Target plants are mainly food crops including cereals, legumes and vegetables.

    The new agricultural biodiversity of seed allows the diversification of crops that can easily
                adapt to climate, soils, and rainfall patterns. Also information is exchanged about the traits
                and characterization of new varieties.

                The overall goal of the CSB establishment is therefore, two fold: one, to maintain and
                improve local crop accessions that will ensure lasting food productivity and availability, as
                well as increase source of income in the target local communities, and two, to enhance the
                diversities of traditional food crop varieties.

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  Objectives Of The Community Seed Bank:
    
Overall objective: To achieve genetic resource conservation at the community level within the
       framework of sustainable agriculture. To serve and fulfill the rights of rural communities in on-farm
       (in situ) conservation of agricultural biodiversity, recovery and restoration of both the materials
       (seeds) and their plant genetic resources. To serve as backup systems for which lost and
       endangered varieties are revived, and also serve as drought mitigation and management strategy
       at community level.

      
       Specific objectives:

1.   To identify, collect, select and create mechanisms for the availability of indigenous (and improved) seed varieties to the farmers and community.

2.   To engage in seed varietal improvement through farmer’s selection, as well as multiplication, maintenance and propagation of seeds.

3.   To introduce or reinforce food production initiatives through bio-intensive gardening of vegetable crops and production of annual or perennial food crops.

4.   To work on a diversity and ecological strategy that will ensure nutrient cycle balance and soil and water conservation. This will be made possible by determining the proper and preferred crop mix and appropriate technologies.

5.   To identify and build the proper structures (e. g., seed storage) and mechanisms needed for the community seed bank.

  Work Plan Description:
      Cultivation program:
The propagation of local varieties of food crops and other target plant
         species, and the establishment of CSB assist the conservation of genetic resources at the
         community level within the framework of sustainable agriculture.

         Project area:
Nablus district. A number of villages representing about 10-15 % of farmers’
         community in the rural areas of the Nablus district is the primary target beneficiaries of the
         project. Six village community clusters were initially selected to study the status of crop
         landraces in the area: (1) Zawata; (2) Talouza; (3) Alsawieh; (4) Salem; (5) Til; (6) Awarta.  The
         CSB is now being established in Till. Other CSBs can be established in other villages based on
         the Til experience.

        
Target crops:  Include landraces of wheat and barely; landraces of lentil and chickpea; landraces
         of Allium (e.g. onions); landraces of forage and pasture species; and landraces of other
         important food crops (e.g., vegetable marrow, pumpkins, okra).

        
Seed collection: Seeds from identified and verified local landraces and varieties are being
         collected by staff from BERC and by eligible farmers.

       
 Propagation and multiplication of target crops landraces: Part of the collected seeds is
         cultivated organically and working collections established at BERC-Til Botanic Gardens, and at
         Al-Tal site 1km northwest of the BGs. Biodiversity of the collected germplasms is maintained for
         each cultivated population in order to produce a set of ecotypical cultures, an important asset
         for conservation as well as providing high quality raw plant material for scientific testing. A
         second portion of the seeds is dispensed to selected eligible farmers for propagation on their
         farms. Farmers are asked to return larger quantities of seeds than they received.

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  Establishment of the CSB:
      Structure of the community-based seed bank:
     
CSB comprises the following compartments:

1.    Receiving and Temporary Storage Room (an office): day-to-day transactions are conducted in this room.

2.    Drying Room.  Drying of seeds will be carried out immediately after its arrival at the CSB. Different methods will be used for drying including: desiccants, drying cabinets, NGB apparatus.

3.    Preparation Area. Seed processing involve cleaning, inspection, sterilization, packaging, classification (voucher numbers given), etc.

4.    Seed Testing Laboratory. Tests include determination of weight of 1000 seeds, moisture content of seeds, viability, and detection of microbial (fungal, bacterial, viral) infection.

5.    Seed Manipulation Area: Selected and preferred crop cultivars, which have been evaluated on farm and selected for bulking by farmers, are stocked in this room. In addition, the room keeps materials, which are intended for bulking in quantities of up to a set weight (e.g. 25 Kg). Also all multiplied seeds for distribution and supply purposes are housed in this room.

6.    Germplasm Mid-Term (10-20 years) Conservation Cold Room: to conserve all locally or acquired germplasm for safekeeping. Orthodox seeds will only be considered for storing germplasm in the CSB since those can be dried at low humidity and stored at low temperatures. These seeds can remain viable for many years and are rather easily stored in the CSB. The recalcitrant seeds which do not tolerate low humidity and temperature will not be eligible candidates for the seedbanking conservation in the CSB. Seed storage practices at the CSB may involve the following. Seeds are first cleaned, inspected, counted and packaged then they are placed open for a minimum of three weeks to equilibrate at 20 C and 13-15 % relative humidity (RH) (using silica gel desiccant).  The storage containers are then sealed and kept at the appropriate temperatures (2-4 °C).

7.    Farmers Meeting Room (Seminar Room): this is a function room where the stakeholders hold meetings, consultations and trainings

        Management of the CSB:
    
BERC has formed a CSB Management Committee (CSB-MC) comprising members designated by
       BERC, and farmers from the Til farmers Community (also members of the Farmers’ Committee, FC).
       The CSB-MC is responsible for, but not limited to, aspects such as:

        
1.     Determining the crops and crop cultivars to be multiplied.
        
2.     Identifying farmers in charge of multiplying seeds.
        
3.     Estimating the seed demand by crop and variety.
        
4.     Coordinating seed distribution and supply to farmers.
        
5.     Facilitating germplasm collection and rescue missions in the area.
        
6.     Determining the quantity of seed reserves required by crop variety.
        
7.     Treating packaging and storing seed materials.

       A designated staff member at BERC will be responsible for administrative duties and maintaining
       the cooperative effort between the MC and farmers. A farmers’ committee (FC). one FC for women,
       WFC; and one for men, MFC have been formed. The FCs help facilitate, coordinate, and ensure
       the participation of community members in the CSB’s activities.
 

  Current Farmers Committees:

FCM: Mr. Samir Y. Zeidan (Head), Mr. Omar M. Hindi, Mr. Mustafa M. Assideh, Mr. Al. A. Saifi, Mr. M. A. Hasan.

FCW: Mrs. Fatimeh A. Assideh (Head), Mrs. Safieh M. Nofal, Mrs. Arifeh F. Hindi, Jamileh A. Saleh, Zahereh I. Ramadan, Ms. Abir H. Ramadan.

Current MC: Prof. Moh’d S. A. Shtayeh (Head), Ms. Rana Jamous, Mr. Mahdi Al-Khader, Mr. Samir Y. Zeidan, Mrs. Fatimeh A. Assideh.
 

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  Training and educational program:

In order to promote a deeper awareness and understanding of indigenous crops amongst farmers community, and the unique within-species genetic diversity in these crops, The MC develops, in conjunction with the cultivation programs, educational activities, workshops and training programs which are to the farmers, agriculturists, and researchers. Such programs help facilitate the exchange of information, resources and germplasm between the CSB and farmers communities.

Training program: Farmers from Til community and the CSB committees’ members have been instructed by BERC staff, and other specialists on a wide range of sustainable organic agricultural techniques, specific for indigenous crop plants. Courses have been held over 3-week periods at BERC, and included: germplasm collection, simple propagation methods, establishing genotype collections, selection and breeding and integration into local crop systems and post harvest protocols. 

The training is designed for the capacity building of farmers and involved committees members to competently manage community seed banks and accompanying activities. Issues covered by the training programs included, but not limited to:

1.     Importance of germplasm and the need for conservation through use.
2.     Seed technology (germplasm collection, selection, production, propagation, breeding, etc). 3.     Seed characterization.
4.     Seed adaptation trials.
5.     Gender dynamics in agricultural biodiversity conservation and use.
6.     Importance and value of indigenous knowledge systems/ practices as it relates to agricultural 
        biodiversity.
7.     Community rights.
8.     Seed multiplication procedures.
9.     Seed selection, drying, seed processing and storage techniques.
10.  Benefits sharing between and among farmers.

Workshops / Seminars / Meetings: A series of these have been organized to convey to the community the main educational and public awareness messages related to the CSB’s activities.

  The collection and exchange of traditional knowledge

Historical uses of indigenous crops, including their current use by Palestinian communities are now being documented from source material and in interviews with farmers from the Nablus district.  Information has been recorded on pre-prepared forms, accompanied by photos and voucher herbarium specimens of plants used by farmers, collected for identification.

  Address for correspondence:
    
Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center (BERC),
       Til, Nablus POB 696.
       Telefax: 09-2346-406, 09-2346-147
       E-mail: info@berc.ps

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