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3.5 AGROBIODIVERSITY

The agriculture sector contributes nearly 42% of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is the mainstay of the Nepalese economy. Agricultural resources fulfil both the immediate and long-term needs of rural communities. Of the more than 6,000 vascular plant species found in Nepal, about 550 species and subspecies have food value and 200 are cultivated species.


There are four major stages in the conservation of agrobiodiversity (crop and animal genetic resources): (i) survey and identification, (ii) characterisation, (iii) evaluation, and (iv) conservation. In addition to supporting and maintaining traditional agroecosystems, various in-situ conservation techniques are commonly employed as part of an overall agrobiodiversity conservation strategy.

3.5.1 CROPS

The Plant Genetic Resources Unit was established for food crops in 1984 at the Agricultural Botany Division of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council. Before that, collection and evaluation of vegetables was started in 1972 with the establishment of the Vegetable Development Division. Fruit germplasms have been maintained in 19 agricultural research centres and farms under the Nepal Agricultural Research Council and the Department of Agriculture since the 1960s (Upadhyay 1999).


Eleven major plant exploration missions have been undertaken in Nepal since 1938, in collaboration with international institutes. A total of 6,123 accessions of different crop species from Nepal are conserved at the International Agricultural Research Centre, National Institute of Agrobiological Resources, Japan, and with the United States Department of Agriculture, USA. More than 10,500 accessions of cereals, grain legumes, oilseeds, vegetables, and industrial and spice crops are preserved in these centres (Upadhyay 2000, pers. comm.). The Agriculture Botany Division has preserved 10,500 accessions of 30 genera in its gene bank, including cereals (6,069), grain legumes (3,375), oil seeds (537), vegetables (461), industrial crops (15), spice crops (35), and others (11).

3.5.1.1 Policy and legislation

In order to fulfil its international obligations towards the conservation of genetic diversity, Nepal has become a party to several international agreements and conventions. Following are the important conventions from the agrobiodiversity point of view:




  • International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), 1961

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), 1973

  • Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992

  • International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources: Global Action Plan on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, 1996

  • World Trade Organisation (WTO) under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), 1994 - Nepal has the status of observer of this obligation

Nepal is not rushing to enact any legislation or formulate any policy regarding the protection of plant breeders’ rights as the Government is of the opinion that Nepal’s farmers do not face any threat of competition in the near future from any foreign multinational seed company (Pant 1999). However, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights allow governments to formulate their own plant protection legislation for commercial varieties to safeguard the interests of farmers and indigenous communities.


Other important aspects that have so far remained untouched by legislation in Nepal are Intellectual Property Rights and Farmers’ Rights. Nepal enacted the Seed Act in 1988 to deal with the quality of seed production and its distribution to maintain crop diversity.
Nepal is a member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and has adopted the Global Plan of Action for plant genetic resources. The priorities of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture are: (i) in-situ conservation and development, (ii) ex-situ conservation, (iii) utilisation of plant genetic resources, and, (iv) development and capacity building of institutions.
Previous agricultural policy directives have implicitly acknowledged agrobiodiversity conservation; however, no formal agrobiodiversity policy exists. The NEPAP I (HMGN 1993) emphasises the importance of using organic fertilisers, providing farmers with a choice of techniques for sustainable agricultural development, and recognising agroecological zones for planning appropriate interventions and to acknowledge the different ecological and social values inherent in diverse farming systems.
The Agriculture Perspective Plan emphasises high-input agriculture on environmentally robust land as part of a strategy to increase production. As farmers' incomes rise, it then becomes desirable for farmers to take environmentally fragile land out of production, which is beneficial for biodiversity conservation. However, high-input agriculture requires liberal use of pesticides and fertilisers, and often results in environmental contamination and pollution. The Agriculture Perspective Plan recommends the judicious use of fertilisers and pesticides and greater use of integrated pest management to counteract the potentially negative impacts that fertilisers and pesticides can have on biodiversity. Of greater concern, however, is the fact that the high-input agriculture promoted in the Agriculture Perspective Plan relies on modern crop varieties that only respond to these inputs. With this emphasis, the Agriculture Perspective Plan ignores traditional farming systems that are the living repositories of agrobiodiversity in Nepal.

3.5.1.2 Major achievements



Evaluation of the performance of local landraces: Various commodity programmes have been evaluating the performance of local landraces. The following numbers of landraces of various crops have been characters: 680 rice, 713 finger millet, 322 barley, 216 soybean, 184 buckwheat, 146 lentil, and 35 bean landraces. Of the 680 rice landraces evaluated, 23 were recommended for improvement. Additionally, 50 landraces of maize were evaluated and characterised in the Koshi hill area, and 259 maize landraces were evaluated in observation nurseries at Kakani. However, almost all of these were found to be susceptible to Puccinia sorghi. Eighteen landraces of maize were collected from the Koshi hills and some of them, such as Lekali Panheli and Lekali, produced grain yields of over 4 million tonnes per hectare. Of the many local wheat landraces evaluated by the wheat programme and at other research centres, eight have been used in hybridisation. Some wheat landraces, such as Dabde local, flourish under low fertility and moisture-deficient situations (Chand 1988).
Maintenance of traditional germplasm accessions: More than 299 accessions of 18 traditional vegetables are maintained at the Agriculture Botany Division. 27 local landraces of potato are maintained at the Potato Research Programme. Twelve of these have been characterised. Adhikari (2000) documented a total of 174 mushroom species, of which 110 are edible, 13 are medicinal, 45 are toxic, and six species have other uses.
The National Grain Legume Programme has collected 1,242 specimens of germplasm from eight summer and winter legumes from various geographic regions of the country. Among the crop species, 275 lentil, 523 chickpea, 163 soybean, 76 grass pea, 85 pigeon pea, 28 black gram, 64 mung bean and 28 faba bean species were collected. One line of groundnut has been collected in Nepal, while 145 lines of groundnut have been collected from other countries, including 76 from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), 51 from the USA, 12 from the Upper Volta, and one each from Bhutan, Brunei, Ghana, Israel, Pakistan and Senegal.
Release of landraces: Many local landraces of oilseed and sugarcane have been collected and are being promoted and released. Survey results show that there are more than 102 local landraces of oilseed available in Nepal. More than 200 germplasm specimens of sugarcane have been collected from India and Nepal. Nineteen local landraces of 12 vegetable species have been either released or recommended in Nepal. Thirty varieties of rice, 15 of maize, 26 of wheat, six of barley, three of finger millet, five of chickpea, five of lentil, four of mustard, and six varieties of soybean have been developed and recommended by the Department of Agriculture for cultivation in different agroecological zones (DOA 1999). On-site experimentation with hill farmers in eastern Nepal has revealed that farmers grew as many as 18 vegetable varieties to evaluate their qualities and suitability under local conditions (Rijal et al. 1997). Similarly, Jyapu farmers around Kathmandu valley grow more than 36 improved and/or local varieties of vegetables to supply the market throughout the season.

Research stations: Nepalese agriculture has changed significantly in the past four decades from subsistence to commercial farming (Basnyat 1999). The country has improved crop yield, for example the rice yield increased from 1,978kg/ha to 2,391kg/ha over the last twenty years, at a rate of 1.9% per year. On one hand, local crops and livestock diversity is facing genetic erosion, but at the same time the country has introduced new crops, and new varieties and breeds of existing crops in Nepal, increasing the base of agricultural diversity. Nepal has established research stations in different agroclimatic zones, or development regions (Box 3.1). These research stations collect, evaluate, and help conserve agrobiodiversity.

Box 3.1 Agricultural Research Stations in Nepal



Eastern Development Region

Agricultural Research Station, Tarhara; Pakhribas Agriculture Center & Horticulture Center, Dhankuta



Central Development Region

Agricultural Research Stations at Parwanipur, Rampur, and Kavre; Jiri (Livestock); Rasuwa (Pasture); Trishuli and Godavari (Fisheries); Jitpur (Sugarcane); Rampur (Maize); Nawalpur (Oilseed); Belachapi (Tobacco); Khumatar (Potato)

Western Development Region

Agricultural Research Stations at Bhairahwa, Lumle, and Pokhara; Bandipur (Sheep and Goats); Marpha (Horticulture); Pokhara (Fisheries); Bhairahwa (Wheat)
Mid-western and Far-western Development Regions

Agricultural Research Stations at Nepalgunj, Doti and Jumla; Salyan (Ginger)



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