Understanding farmers’ views, knowledge and perceptions regarding the potential loss of traditional varieties is an important input for any on-farm conservation initiative or policy. With almost exclusive focus on scientists’ recommendations, the paper argues that one of the major reasons for past failure of agrobiodiversity policies to result in the level of impact expected is their failure to adequately integrate farmers’ knowledge. With regard to the different views and sometimes results, and given that farmers’ knowledge is the true reflection of the reality on the ground, it remains essential to understand their assessment and perceptions of the causes and consequences of replacement. Characterizing farmers and distinguishing between those who perceive replacement and loss and those who do not can assist in bridging the science-policy gap. Thus, this paper aims to explain farmers’ perceptions of the potential loss of traditional varieties of crops. As part of a bigger project, called the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative, data for this paper was elicited from 395 farm households in Northern Ethiopia in 2007. The survey did not focus on a specific crop variety, as the purpose of the study was to broadly elicit farmers’ general perceptions for traditional varieties of crops in the study areas. The data was analyzed by using a principal components analysis followed by the Poisson regression analysis. The findings suggest that replacement and loss lead to the disappearance of traditional varieties which, in turn, affects farmers’ livelihoods. This happens mainly because traditional varieties lose their desirable traits and soils increasingly become less suited to these varieties. Prosperous farmers earn most of their income from crop production and are less dependent on traditional varieties. Unlike them, resource-poor farmers’ livelihoods are more dependent on a portfolio of traditional varieties, and they are therefore more interested in, concerned with and informed about the replacement. Rather than what farmers do themselves, their perceptions are shaped by observing others, their dependence on traditional varieties, their concern, and the information they receive. To avoid trade-offs and take advantage of the synergies between crop productivity and crop diversity, mitigation measures will remain indispensable in terms of linking agricultural extension services with on-farm conservation initiatives. Measures could include the development of on-farm conservation partnership with farmers who acknowledge the causes and consequences (to their livelihoods) of the replacement.


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pp. 377-395
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