Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) is a regional non-government organization that promotes and implements community-based conservation, development and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in partnership with civil society organizations, government agencies, academic research institutions and local government units in Bhutan, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Established on June 1977, SEARICE is registered in the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC ) as a non-stock, non-profit organization based in the Philippines.
Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) or simply seeds, is where humanity sources its food, fuel, medicine, shelter and clothes. While PGR descend from from previous generations and from specific farming communities that cultured and nurtured seeds, PGR have been shared widely and are now considered part of the global commons. Recent developments in agriculture production systems, however threaten the diversity of PGR with the promotion of homogenous crop varieties.
In recent years, farmers’ access to PGR and their traditional role in conserving and managing PGR has been increasingly reduced alongside the loss of PGR diversity, the bias and massive promotion of technologies favoring homogenous crop varieties and application of different forms of intellectual property rights (IPRs) like patents on seeds.
The Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation and Biodiversity Use and Conservation in Asia Programme (CBDC-BUCAP) are merged regional programs that aim to strengthen the capacity of farmers to manage their PGR and secure their local seed systems through conservation, crop improvement and sustainable utilization. Alongside these efforts is the development of farmer groups to engage research institutions as well as policy makers to craft programs and policies that support and strengthen farmers’ and local communities’ initiatives on conservation, sustainable development and use of their plant genetic resources. CBDC-BUCAP aims to ensure farmers’ access and control over PGR amidst changing market systems while developing economically viable and sustainable farming systems by securing the local seed systems for food production and market.
SEARICE serves as the regional coordinator of the CBDC-BUCAP in Southeast Asia which is implemented in 6 rice-growing countries (Bhutan, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia) having varying agro-ecosystems , production market systems, facing different challenges in PGR management.
Building from the successes of the CBDC-BUCAP, the Participatory Plant Breeding Mainstreaming (PPBM) program started its implementation in 2008 in the Philippines. The program aims to:
- Increase genetic diversity of rice cultivated in both intensive and extensive farming systems;
- Increase genetic diversity of corn open-pollinated varieties;
- Strengthen the capacities of research institutions to support on-farm and farmer -led varietal rehabilitation, development and seed production.
- Initiate policy reforms at local and national levels to support participatory plant breeding and enhancing Farmers’ Rights to seeds.
In partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA) through its National Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM- KASAKALIKASAN), it is currently being implemented in 31 provinces across the country. The program has so far achieved the following:
- Enhanced capacities of farmers to do on-farm PGR management (biodiversity conservation, participatory plant breeding and seed production management),
- Increased crop diversity (new varieties of rice and corn are continually being developed, selected and adopted by farmers under varied agro-ecosystems and socio-economic and cultural prefereces).
- Strengthened community seed systems.
- New Technologies – hybrid rice, genetic engineering on food and agriculture, geneteic usage, restriction technologies/terminator technologies (GURTS);
- Application of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) on seeds – patents on seeds, national seed regulations, and seed certification systems.
SEARICE’s PIU, in synergy with SEARICE’s technical work together with its implementing partners, initiates, promotes and develops alternative sustainable mechanisms for the protection of food and agriculture systems of small farming communities.