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Village seed systems and the biological diversity of millet crops in marginal environments of India


The study relates village seed systems to biological diversity of millet crops grown by farmers in the semi-arid lands of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, India. In these subsistence-oriented, semi-arid production systems the environment is marginal for crop growth and often there is no substitute for millet crops. Across communities, farmers grow 13 different combinations of pearl millet, sorghum, finger millet, little millet, and foxtail millet varieties, but individual farmers grow an average of only 2–3 millet varieties per season. The “village seed system” in this study refers to all channels through which farmers acquire genetic materials, separate from or in interaction with the commercial seed industry, observed at the local level. Data are compiled through household surveys and interviews with traders and dealers in village and district markets. Based on the concept of the seed lot, several seed system parameters are defined and measured by millet crop. Most seed transactions, including gifts of seed, appear to be monetized. Seed supply channels differ by improvement status of the genetic material. Regression results confirm that seed system parameters are statistically significant determinants of the spatial diversity of millet crops measured at the village level. Furthermore, both the trade through weekly village markets (shandies) and through the formal seed supply channel contribute positively to the breadth of genetic materials in these communities. Ways should be found to strengthen and improve the overall efficiency of the seed system, including both formal and informal channels, in order to reduce the costs to farmers of procuring and managing diverse crop varieties.

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  1. 1.

    Personal communication with Dr. A. Seetharam, November 2002, Professor (Emeritus), ICAR Center for Small Millets, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore; Mr. Gopal Reddy, Scientists, ICRISAT Gene Bank and Prof. Naik, Millet Breeder, UAS Dharwad; Rabi Sorghum Germplasm Collection in Northern Karnataka and Adjoining areas of Andhra Pradesh, Genetic Resources Progress Report—74 and 85, ICRISAT; Rainy Sorghum Germplasm Collections in Karnataka and Adjoining Areas, Genetic Resources Progress Report—29, ICRISAT.

  2. 2.

    Personal communication with Dr. A. Seetharam, January 2003, Professor (Emeritus), ICAR Center for Small Millets, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.

  3. 3.

    Calculated with triangular yield distributions elicited from farmers, by variety (Hardaker, Huirne and Anderson 1997).


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The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of anonymous reviewers, as well as Amanda King, Eric Van Dusen,Leslie Lipper,Phil Pardey, Rob Tripp, and Svetlana Edmeades, on earlier drafts of this paper. The European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) supported this research.

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Correspondence to Latha Nagarajan.



Annex. 1 Glossary of terms

Ancestral cultivar Farmer cultivar for which farming communities or individual farmers have saved seed for generations
Farmer cultivar Variety bred/selected by farmers
Formal seed supply channel A channel that transmits planting material developed by professional plant breeders, e.g. private firms
FC Farmer cultivar
HYB Hybrid
Improved variety Variety improved by professional plant breeders
Informal seed supply channel A channel that transmits planting material developed by farmers or previously developed, saved, and transferred by farmers. Typically, although not always, involves non-market transactions. One counterexample is a shandy
IOPV Improved open-pollinated variety
IPLS Improved pureline selection, from a farmer cultivar
Kharif the cool, rainy season, (mid-July to the end of October)
Panchayat literally, a “village community,” or cluster of villages; an administrative designation
Rabi The post-rainy season (December to March)
Seed lot Physical unit of seed the farmer uses to reproduce a variety
Seed replacement rate No. of times a farmer has replaced the seed lot of a given variety, procured from either formal or informal sources, divided by the years of use
Seed-to-grain price ratio Ratio of seed price to grain price for crop variety
Shandy A weekly village market
Variety age No. of years farmer has grown the same named variety

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Nagarajan, L., Smale, M. Village seed systems and the biological diversity of millet crops in marginal environments of India. Euphytica 155, 167–182 (2007).

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  • Millet diversity
  • Seed systems
  • Variety change
  • Dry lands