The Centrality of Seed: Participatory and Evolutionary Plant Breeding

The Centrality of Seed: Building Agricultural Resilience Through Plant Breeding by Salvatore Ceccarelli, PhD has just been published on Independent Science News.

Synopsis: Once the exclusive domain of farmers, plant breeding is now nearly always practiced without any meaningful farmer input. The downsides associated with this transition have hardly been explored. They include losses of genetic diversity, local adaptability, plant robustness, flavor, nutritional quality, and many other important crop traits. In particular, commercial seed breeding focuses on the specific needs of chemical agriculture. Commodity crops are thus bred for close spacing and short stature so farmers have to buy more seeds per acre and herbicides to suppress the weeds. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have extended this trend and are even bred to sell specific herbicides. By abandoning seed saving and animal breeding, farmers have thus surrendered control over the long-term direction of agriculture. Its future is now almost exclusively in the hands of the chemical industry while breeding for organic agriculture is almost nonexistent.

But can breeding be returned to farmer control without sacrificing short-term benefits? Salvatore Ceccarelli is a leading international scientist and proponent of farmer-led participatory and evolutionary plant breeding methods based on solid scientific grounds. He works with diverse crops and here describes how even common commercial varieties can be used as the gene pools from which to successfully create evolutionary populations from which farmers can select high-quality locally-adapted varieties.

The complete article is available at:

Salvatore Ceccarelli lives in Hyderabad (India) and cooperates in organizing participatory and evolutionary programs with different organizations, with various crops and in a number of countries. He is associated with the organization: Rete Semi Rurali, Via di Casignano, 25, Scandicci (FI) 50018, Italy ( His website is: and it links to the full text of many useful scientific papers under the Publications tab. Many of Salvatore Ceccarelli’s papers can be accessed by joining: Some academic articles can be accessed if you create a free JSTOR account:


Further Reading on Participatory and Evolutionary Plant Breeding

Döring, Thomas F., et al. “Evolutionary plant breeding in cereals—into a new era.” Sustainability 3.10 (2011): 1944-1971.

Free Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit from the Organic Seed Alliance.

Participatory Plant breeding programs for broccoli and organic spelt, quinoa and buckwheat. Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Phillips, S. L., & Wolfe, M. S. (2005). Evolutionary plant breeding for low input systems. The Journal of Agricultural Science, 143(04), 245-254.

Produce Your Own Seeds: A biology handbook for farmers (worldwide ebook)
by Salvatore Ceccarelli.

WIRFP Participatory Plant Breeding: Concepts and Examples This Paper presents the results of a participatory maize breeding collaboration between Indian farmers and agricultural universities.

Plant Genetic Resources

Open Source Seed Initiative OSSI was created by a group of plant breeders, farmers, seed companies, and sustainability advocates who want seeds that are free of patents.

Seed Savers Exchange conserves and promotes America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

USDA National Plant Germplasm System. The U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) is collaborative effort to safeguard the genetic diversity of agriculturally important plants.

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