Voices 55

July 2000

Biodiversity contributes to food security

Since the beginning of organized agriculture thousands of years ago, farmer-breeders have developed tens of thousands of varieties of crops. These varieties meet many local needs: good yield and taste, disease and insect resistance, tolerance to climatic variations, and culturally-defined uses. Where traditional farming practices are still pursued, it is common to find several dozen varieties of maize, wheat, potatoes or other crops planted in a single village. Often, numerous crops grow together in a single field. Each crop and variety has specific uses, and together they act as a kind of crop insurance. Even in difficult growing conditions – drought, torrential rains, poor soil, or pest infestation – a farmer who has planted different crop varieties will still have a harvest. In this way, crop diversity – sometimes called biodiversity – contributes powerfully to local food security.

But increasingly, agricultural biodiversity is at risk. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that about 75% of crop and livestock biodiversity has been lost since 1900. These losses are caused mostly by the use of unsustainable technologies and degrading land-use practices. We are also losing diversity of insects and soil organisms, without which agriculture would not be possible. We are dependent on crop genetic diversity to adapt to new problems. Traditional crop varieties often have the characteristics needed to combat new diseases or insect pests.

We are also losing local knowledge about agriculture. Crop varieties and farmers’ knowledge are cultural treasures and economic resources. Biodiversity is important to our health and nutrition. Loss of biodiversity can lead to declining health and increasing poverty. Traditional herbal healing is still an important source of medical care for 80% of the world’s population. Crop variety improves chances for adequate nutrition. Diversity reduces farmers’ vulnerability to climate changes, market price swings, pest attacks and, ultimately, poverty.

You can help farmers preserve the biodiversity of our planet – and improve their chances for better nutrition and health, and economic well-being. Warn farmers about the results of:

  • Agricultural development schemes which promote the adoption of uniform varieties.
  • Habitat loss through deforestation, desertification and large development projects such as dams.

Discuss the growing impact of multinational seed corporations, which promote a limited number of genetically identical crops.

The scripts in this package give ideas about maintaining diversity at the local level. Use them to begin discussions about the benefits of growing many different crops on the farm, and the importance of saving and storing seeds from local crop varieties. Encourage farmers to share their knowledge with you and with each other.

There are probably thousands of ways to preserve or enhance biodiversity. We hope that this package inspires you to study traditional ways, and to imagine new ones.

Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, researcher, writer, Toronto, Canada

  • Since 1900, three quarters of the biodiversity in agricultural crops has been lost
  • Domestic livestock breeds are disappearing at a rate of 6 breeds per month
  • Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of 29 acres per minute
  • The second biggest threat to biodiversity loss is the invasion of non-native species
  • Of the 5000 species of plants that human beings have used for food, less than 20 provide most of the world’s food
  • Three crops – wheat, rice and maize – account for 60% of the calories and 56% of the protein that humans consume directly from plants

2000 George Atkins Communications Award

Call for nominations

The George Atkins Communications Award was established in 1991 to recognize the outstanding achievements of members of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network. This year’s winner will receive a cash prize of US$250.00.

We are looking for candidates who demonstrate:

  • excellence in broadcasting for agricultural and rural development
  • innovative participatory approaches to communication
  • community involvement

Nominate yourself, your organization or other Network members. Please submit a statement (up to 1000 words) of why you think this member should receive the award. Include any relevant photographs with your nomination.

Nominations must be submitted to the Toronto office by: November 30, 2000.

The George Atkins Communications Award is named for Dr. George S. Atkins, Founding Director of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.

We’ve moved!

As of June 1, 2000, we can be reached at:

416 Moore Avenue
Suite 101
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M4G 1C9

Our telephone and fax numbers remain the same:
Tel: 416-971-6333
Fax: 416-971-5299

Neem patent revoked

A recent decision to revoke the Neem patent is seen as a victory in the fight to take back control of traditional knowledge systems and resources.

In May of this year, the European Patent Office revoked the patent for a fungicide made from oil from seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). The patent was granted to the US Department of Agriculture and multi-national corporation, WR Grace, six years ago.

A group of NGOs and individuals launched the “Neem Campaign” in 1993 to gain worldwide support to oppose the patent. They argued that patents cannot be based on traditional knowledge. If they are, indigenous populations will no longer be able to use biological resources that they have developed and nurtured over hundreds of years. Farmers have used different parts of the neem tree – sometimes referred to as “the most helpful plant on Earth” – for centuries as medicines, fungicides, and pesticides, among many other uses.

India does not allow patents on agricultural products or processes. In the USA, patents can be granted on any life form except humans.

Water: we can make a difference

Earlier this year we shared with you some information and experiences from around the world on water management. This update from India shows the importance of community action. India may be facing its worst-ever drought of this century, especially in Rajasthan, where famine looms for the second year in a row. We have had reports of police opening fire on people rioting for drinking water; of villagers struggling with only 10-15 litres of water for a fortnight; of others committing suicide by consuming pesticide because they can’t decide whether the little water they have should be used for drinking or to water their crops.

Yet in the Alwar region there are lush, green fields. This “miracle” was not achieved with government funding, large dams or irrigation projects. It is the result of a community effort. Villagers constructed johads or small crescent shaped earthen dams that harness rainwater – basically a village water tank traditionally used to store water during dry periods.

If water scarcity is an issue in your region, remember to use our scripts as a starting point for researching and producing radio programs that will interest and benefit your community.

Knowing Your Audience

Knowing Your Audience is a three part series which began in the April 2000 issue of Voices. Part 1 explained the difference between your current audience and your target audience. Here, we look at different ways of gathering information about the people who are listening to your programs. Look for our next issue to learn how to use the information you have gathered to make decisions about your programs.

We invite you to share methods that have worked for you as rural communicators, and that you feel will help other Network members.

How do you gather information about your audience?

Gathering information about the people who are tuning in to your programs is a good way to find out if your broadcasts are actually being heard by your intended target audience. There are many different ways of gathering this information. You can try some of the ideas listed below or you may prefer to use your own methods.

However you gather information, remember that your data will not be accurate if the people who participate are different from your audience. For example, if your show is aimed at female farmers, the majority of participants should be female farmers.

Use your judgement as a broadcaster. Audience tests are not always accurate, and you need to balance the information with your own experience and knowledge.

1. Audience surveys
An audience survey consists of a list of questions which gives information about what your audience likes or dislikes, when they listen most often, what programs they would like to hear more of, etc. It can be either written or oral. In many cases, it may not be practical to use a written list of questions. Instead, you may wish to go to people’s homes to ask the questions.

When you design the questionnaire, there are some things to consider:

Types of questions: Decide whether to use open- or closed-ended questions. An open-ended question allows the person to give their own answer to the question. For example, “What do you think of our show?” A closed-ended question is one where the person selects the most appropriate response from a list. For example, “How would you describe our program: a) excellent, b) good, c) fair, d) bad?” Open-ended questions provide you with more information. But closed-ended questions are easier to compare results. You may decide to use a combination of open- and closed-ended questions.

Phrasing: Sometimes the way you word the question suggests an answer to the person responding. For example, asking, “You don’t think Mr. Smith is a bad host, do you?” is likely to receive an answer of, “Of course not.” Consider asking, “What do you think of Mr. Smith, the host?”

2. Panel testing
A panel is a small group of carefully selected people who discuss and evaluate your program. To be effective, the members of your panel must be similar to your audience. For example, if your show’s audience is 60% female and 40% male, and 70% of them are between the ages of 20 and 30, then your panel should be made up of 6 females and 4 males, 7 of whom are in their 20s. The panel may meet once, or it may meet on a regular basis. You may use the panel to test new show ideas, or to discuss past shows.

3. Group discussions
Group discussions are similar to panels. The main difference is that there are more people in a group, and they are not selected to match the program audience. You can use group discussions to evaluate a program after it has aired, and to discuss possible issues or topics for future shows. One of the most successful types of group discussions is the “Listening Group.” A Listening Group may meet once a week, listen to a specific program together, and then discuss it. This group provides ongoing feedback about your program.

4. Daily logs (made by listeners)
A Daily Listener Log is an accurate record of the programs an individual (or household) listens to on a specific day. For this method to work, however, your participants must be able to read and write. If you can get many different families to keep daily logs for one or two weeks, you will have accurate and detailed information about the listening routines of your audience. All you need to do is provide listeners with a blank calendar and ask them to fill in when they turn their radios on and off, and what programs they are listening to.

Contributed by: Krystyn Tully, Student of Radio and Television Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Biodiversity resources

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
An international NGO dedicated to the conservation and sustainable improvement of agricultural biodiversity. Communique (published 4-6 times per year) and many other publications are available in English, French and Spanish. Also published: Human nature – Agricultural biodiversity and farm-based food security.

RAFI Headquarters
110 Osborne Street, #202
Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3L 1Y5, Canada
Tel: 204-453-5259
Fax: 204-925-8034
E-mail: rafi@rafi.org
Web site:www.rafi.org

KENGO Kenya Energy and Environment Organization (KENGO)
A coalition of women’s groups, farmer organizations and NGOs working to promote sustainable use of natural resources in Kenya. KENGO runs SEEDS and Genetic Resources Project to promote conservation and sustainable use of food and tree crops.

PO Box 48197, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-1-749-747
Fax: 254-2-749-382

Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education (SEARICE)
A not-for-profit organization focusing on community-based conservation and development of plant genetic resources. Seeds of Survival (SOS) Program provides technical assistance and educational materials to NGOs and people’s organizations involved in plant genetic resource conservation and development.

Unit 331, Eagle Court Condominium
#26 Matalino Street, Central District
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Tel: 632-924-7544
Fax: 632-922-6710
E-mail: searice@philonline.com.ph

Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN)
An international NGO promoting awareness of the loss of biological diversity as a major threat to food security. Activities are based on grassroots approaches to genetic resources management. Their quarterly newsletter, Seedling, features initiatives, and seed-industry updates in the South. Available free of charge to groups, individuals and NGOs in the South.

Girona 25, pral. E-08010, Barcelona, Spain
Tel: 34-93-301 13 81
Fax: 34-93-301 16 27
E-mail: grain@bcn.servicom.es

Environment and Development Activities – Zimbabwe (ENDA-ZW)
Works with rural and urban households in various projects addressing issues of food security, environmental resource management, biodiversity, water supply, shelter and health. Seeds Action Program promotes collection of traditional varieties of seeds and their storage; produces indigenous seeds for small-scale farmers; trains farmers in new techniques of seed production to improve livelihood.

PO Box 3492, Harare, Zimbabwe
Tel/Fax: 263-4 301024
E-mail: enda-zw@harare.iafrica.com

Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) – Seed bank
ECHOs seed bank contains 450 species and varieties of seeds of tropical vegetables, forages, green manure/cover crops and agroforestry trees that may suit difficult farming conditions. Single packets are distributed for trial purposes at no charge.

17391 Durrance Road North
Fort Myers, FL 33917 USA
Tel: 941-543-3246
Fax: 941-543-5317