Books & Proceedings

Plant Breeding and Farmer Participation Plant Breeding and Farmer Participation
Editors: S. Ceccarelli, E.P. Guimarães and E. Weltzien

Chapter 8 - Methodologies for Generating Variability - Part 4: Mutation Techniques.
M. Maluszynski, I. Szarejko, C.R. Bhatia, K. Nichterlein and P.J.L. Lagoda, pp 159-194. (2009) in: Plant Breeding and Farmer Participation, ISBN 978-92-5-106382-8.

Introduction - Economic Impact of Induced Mutations

The use of various mutagens to generate genetic variation in crop plants has a history almost as long as that of conventional breeding. Induction of variability by irradiation of barley seeds with X-rays was already demonstrated in 1928 by Stadler. The application of this phenomenon has come a long way to become a real tool, not only in crop breeding but also in basic research on the plant genome, its structure and function. Breeders were the first to recognize the potential of induced mutations through analogy with spontaneous mutants, often selected as new plant types in many crops, from cereals to apples, not to mention ornamental and decorative plants. Many mutants with desired traits were selected in the second or third generation after mutagenic treatment and subsequently released as new cultivars after agronomic evaluation in regional and national trials. These or other mutants developed with mutations in desired traits, even though not released as new cultivars, have been used in cross-breeding programmes as a source of particular alleles, often allelic to the spontaneous ones, but in a desired genotype. Among them were sourced for characters such as short stature and lodging resistance; disease resistance; oil quality; and increased nitrogen fixation. These mutated genes are especially valuable as the best currently grown cultivar was usually selected for mutagenic treatment. A desired mutation in a good genetic background is a very attractive component in breeding programmes. This approach is much simpler and faster than crossing with an exotic source, and it is one of the main reasons for the wide use of mutated alleles in the breeding of numerous species.

This book provided a comprehensive description and assessment of the use of participatory plant breeding in developing countries. It is aimed at plant breeders, social scientists, students and practitioners interested in learning more about its use with the hope that they all will find a common ground to discuss ways in which plant breeding can be beneficial to all and can contribute to alleviate poverty.


Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) originated in the early 1980s as part of a movement promoting the concept of participatory research, in response to criticisms of the failure of post-green-revolution, experiment-station-based research to address the needs of poor farmers in developing countries. Rooted in debate over the social consequences of the narrow focus of the scientific type of research, PPB gained recognition as an activity mostly promoted by social scientists and agronomists based in anti-establishment non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In consequence, rather than being perceived from the beginning as an additional option available to breeders, PPB for a long time had the image of being one of two contrasting types of plant breeding, with PPB being more 'socially correct' than conventional plant breeding.

Even now, nearly thirty years later, this view is still common. Few professional breeders accept that farmers can be full partners in a plant breeding programme, even though everyone agrees that it was farmers that domesticated crops about 10 000 years ago and, in some regions of the world, continued to modify and manipulate them to the present day. Even before the re-discovery of Mendel's laws of inheritance, the work of a number of amateur breeders become an inspiration for Darwin's theories. In several respects, the relationship with farmers on which PPB is based is similar to the ways in which plant breeders worked with producers in North America and Europe in the early twentieth century. At that time it was commonplace for breeders to spend time interacting with producers, and to test new materials collaboratively in farmers' fields in order to understand what producers considered to be desirable traits for an improved variety. However, the combination of industrialization of agriculture and formal training for plant breeders created a gap between breeders and farmers, a gap that was exported to developing countries in the post-war era. As the profession of plant breeding lost the habit of interacting closely with producers, concern for how to address farmers' needs and constraints fell by the wayside. PPB revived this as a central issue, because by the late 1970s it was increasingly evident in developing countries that post-green-revolution 'improved' varieties were too often failing to satisfy farmer requirements and were being shunned.

Today there is widespread recognition that the conventional package of new varieties and external inputs, while successful in the more favourable production areas, has often failed to benefit small-scale farmers in marginal areas. As a result, the vital role of PPB as an additional strategy is better understood. Experience has taught that PPB is complementary to conventional plant breeding rather than an alternative type of plant breeding. Demand for a complementary approach has expanded considerably because of pressure to ensure the relevance of research to poor farmers and their diverse agricultural systems, and because PPB allows selection for the specific adaptation required for such a diversity of target environments. Today, about 80 participatory breeding programmes are known worldwide, involving various institutions and various crops. In 2000, an international review of plant breeding research methodologies concluded that PPB should be an 'organic' part of every plant breeding programme aimed at benefiting small-scale farmers in difficult, high-risk environments. In fact, traditional farming and low-input systems, including organic agriculture, are a very heterogeneous population of target environments and not easily served by centralized, conventional plant breeding.

The book demonstrates that PPB is in essence no different from conventional plant breeding, being based on the very same principles of Mendelian, quantitative and population genetics, and therefore has complemented the traditional approach to plant breeding with a number of chapters addressing issues specifically related to the participation of farmers in a plant breeding programme.

The authors of the various chapters have been carefully selected to represent three groups of scientists: the first comprises internationally recognized experts in genetics as related to plant breeding, and in the various aspects of plant breeding (from general methodological issues to more specific issues, such as breeding for resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, high yield potential, molecular breeding and genotype x environment interactions); the second group is represented by professional breeders who have actually practiced participatory plant breeding with a number of different crops and in a number of socially and climatically different areas, using the range of methods presented by the first group; and, finally, the third is represented by a group of scientists with specific expertise in areas not usually covered in classical plant breeding books, such as variety release mechanisms, seed diffusions, institutional issues associated with PPB, and intellectual property rights. A chapter documenting the impact that participatory plant breeding has had after about thirty years of practice has been chosen to be the logical conclusion of the book.

The book is aimed at plant breeders, social scientists, students and practitioners, with the hope that they all will find a common ground to discuss ways in which plant breeding can be beneficial to all and can contribute to alleviate poverty.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge everyone who has, directly or indirectly, contributed to the book: the CGIAR Participatory Research and Gender Analysis Program (PRGA) for the initial idea of producing such a book, the contributors of the chapters for sharing their scientific experience and for enduring a number of revisions of their respective chapters, Dr. P.G. Rajendran for his help in the initial editorial efforts and Directors-General of our Institutions for their continuous support. Final editing and preparation for publication was done by Mr. Thorgeir Lawrence.