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Magazine Editorial

Honey bee publish details

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Category Farmers' Creativity
Title The Creativity of Farmers in Indramayu, Indonesia
Abstract Revolutionary Fact, Evolutionary Path: “Before the Green Revolution we were the selectors of local seeds. During the Green Revolution, we have been the buyers and planters of government seeds. Now, we want to be plant breeders, producing our own ideal seeds,” these statements are voiced by a group of farmer-plant breeders from Indramayu, a regency on the north coast of West Java, Indonesia. In the past several years, a group of farmers in this regency received a training of breeding plants in rice and vegetables in the so-called Participatory Plant Breeding in Farmer Field School (PPB-FFS, or in farmers’ term: Sekolah Lapang Pemuliaan Benih, SLPB). This ‘school’ was organized by the FIELD Foundation in Indonesia in collaboration with the PEDIGREA program of the Center for Genetic Resources, Agricultural Wageningen University. The rediscovery of local traditional varieties in the last three decades after the introduction of the Green Revolution has contributed in diversifying the agriculture and reducing the monoculture of the high yielding varieties. The paper examines this reality. By being experts in adopting the modern scientific knowledge, the farmers are able to reinvent their local varieties, and by doing so, make the ‘local degenerated knowledge’ be lively again. In Indramayu, farmers have become professional partners in genetic resources research and development (see Prain 1994), by also regaining their once ‘lost’ varieties. Sandoval (1994:26—28) refers to ‘memory banking’ (the local farmers’ indigenous practices in traditional varieties of staple and supplementary crops) to avoid the de-contextualization of the gene-banks (the genetic information preserved in gene-banks), The Indramayu farmers have been able to place the gene-banks they are now forming within the context of their everyday practices. A kind of in situ conservation is now taking place (see Jackson 1994:12). An intricate relationship, or an integration between the two banks as mentioned by Sandoval (1994, the memory bank and the gene-bank) has been found so as to become one ‘bank’. Farmers’ own term, for referring to the synergy of the two banks, is ‘seeds-bank’ (bank benih) Becoming Plant Breeders: From Farmers to Experts “We are the plant-breeders,” or in farmers’ own term: “the seed-breeders” (pemulia benih) originating from a mixture of the Indonesian scientific translation words of ‘cross-breeding’ (penyilangan benih) and ‘plant-breeding’ (pemuliaan tanaman). This is a novel term, a new identity for farmer-breeders referring to those who have been practicing the cross-breeding of their plants (rice and/or vegetables). The other farmers—who joined the Farmer Field School in plant breeding—but are not actively doing the cross-breeding identify themselves as the ‘school’s alumni’ with their varied participatory activities. A number of them have been very active as farmer-trainers and/or administrative/field technical staff of the program, or just as ‘the selectors of the seeds bred by the plant-breeders’. Defining the ideal traits: The ‘old’ and the ‘new’ criteria Elderly farmers had their own term of mbibiti for selecting ‘seeds’ prior to harvesting that will be sown in the next planting season. The main goal of carrying out that selection was to get the most ‘pure seeds’ that would be as good as their ‘parental seeds’. There was a ‘rule’ therefore that they were not allowed to select seeds from plants grown 1—2 meter/s from the dikes1. Avoiding the pollination with other varieties grown in the adjacent fields was the main reason within the situation where farmers used to plant a large number of diverse varieties. At this period prior to the introduction of the Green Revolution technology, maintaining the same traits of each local variety—generation to generation—became the main aim of farmers’ activity in seeds selection (mbibiti). It is entirely different from the ‘selection’ the farmer-breeders are now doing after learning from the ‘school’. In Indonesia, the farmers name the activity as menyeleksi (from the root-verb: seleksi). Now, their main focus is looking for the ‘best ideal traits’ among the varied range of segregating progenies produced from the initial cross breeding. Of course, the traits should be different from both the ‘mother’ and the ‘father’ varieties. Following the lessons learned from the ‘school’, each farmer-breeder defined the ideal traits he/she would like to get at the time he/she decided to cross-breed two different varieties. Among a number of traits, the following are the most chosen ones: 1) high productivity from its long panicle and number of grains, 2) the form of grain (either long or short one), 3) appropriate height of plants, 4) maturity-age of plant (e.g. short-age maturity), 5) resistance towards pests and diseases or having strong tissue, 6) aromatic and palatable taste, 7) variety suited to local agro-ecological conditions, for example suitable to dry soil and weather without irrigation, and 8) varieties more responsive to organic fertilizers. The latter two traits are not part of the traits of high yielding varieties produced by the state, whereas not all ‘government seeds’ are palatable. In farmers’ eyes, therefore, their criteria are more suitable to their own need and local ecosystem condition. Selecting the progenies: adapting to local resources and needs Through training, the farmer-breeders learned to do four methods of selection in the breeding of self-pollinating crops (i.e. rice), namely: 1) Bulk selection, 2) Pedigree selection, 3) Modified pedigree/bulk (semi-pedigree) selection, and 4) Backcross selection (see Smolders and Caballeda 2006:101). Since farmers have limited resources, especially appropriate size of lands for carrying out the planting and testing up to such a long time (up to F10 or 10 planting seasons), various modifications were made. An example of these is the shorter period of selecting and testing a farmer-breeder did. From crossing a wild-rice variety and a local traditional one, the farmer selected four segregating progenies only to be planted in the next season (F2). However, beyond his expectation, he discovered a large number of segregation in the next generation. Without considering either Bulk or Pedigree selection method, he decided to only select the most ideal traits he liked best and then planted them in the next season (F3). So that is what he did until a high degree of homozygocity of the traits he preferred was reached. By doing that, he did not need to wait until F10. A shorter period of time in producing the most preferred one was what he gained, e.g. in F5 rather than in F10. “This is Metode Johar (Johar method),” he claimed referring to his own method by applying his own nick name in it. What did he do with the rest? He planted them together in one plot/row, harvested and used them for daily meals. “These are rice of 50,000 tastes,” he said pointing to the rice we were about to eat together. Another farmer also pointed out: “These are rice of 50 tastes.” The exaggerated number was just mentioned to show the very diverse segregating progenies they were able to produce, but were not kept for the next selection stage or for future cross-breeding. A similar method with some degree of variations was also developed by other farmer-breeders to save time and space. Reinventing Tradition in a Modern Scientific Domain: A Dialectic The ongoing phenomenon of farmer-breeders’ activity in Indramayu of West Java province in Indonesia represents an interesting case of dialectical interface between the modern scientific knowledge and farmers’ existing knowledge. Integration of local knowledge and tradition with the modern scientific ways of plant-breeding and combination of old and new ideas, and the adjustment into the existing local conditions of habitat and resources resulted in a modified way of breeding seeds. The activation of old memories within the new scheme of plant breeding on the basis of their needs and interests, however, does not automatically yield any outputs without the material substance. The ‘culture of plant breeding in crop farming’ is in motion. Would the result create a new form of evolutionary change in crop farming? A longitudinal study following this process is thus necessary. Read full article at www.sristi.org (We would have appreciated if the author had identified creative farmers by their name and places. Ed)
Volume No. Honey Bee, 18(2):14-16, 2006