Seed Bank Uses Feedback from Farmers to Assess Best Seed Varieties for Climate

ECHO Farm Seed Bank Manager, Lindsay Watkins

ECHO Farm Seed Bank Manager, Lindsay Watkins

On Tuesday, August 18th, 2009, Worldwatch Senior Researcher Danielle Nierenberg and Research Fellow Molly Theobald took a trip to ECHO Farms in Fort. Myers, Florida to see some examples of agricultural innovations and technologies in action. The following post is the second in a four-part series that discusses this trip and some of the things we learned.

The organization and farm we visited last week, ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), was started in the 1970s with a focus on helping Haiti’s poor. Since then, ECHO has evolved into an important resource and training center for Methodist missionaries, development organizations, Peace Corps, and farmers from all over the world who want to learn about low-cost, environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques.

ECHO Farm's System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Demonstration

ECHO Farm's System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Demonstration

Hands on experience combined with on–the-ground testing is an integral part of ECHO’s philosophy. Stan, ECHO’s Executive Director, explained that it is important to him that not only students and interns trained at ECHO take away agricultural skills based on actual experience, but that the methods and technologies that ECHO promotes are also well-tested and dependable. “We want to present ideas that really work,” he explained. “We are very careful about making certain that we don’t promote anything that hasn’t been tried and tested.” Stan went on to explain that while there is always some experimentation on the ground in order to better fit a tool or method into the specific needs of a community or individual, he never wants someone in the field to be worried about whether or not a technology will work.

One way ECHO ensures its innovations continue to evolve to better fit the needs on the ground around the world is by encouraging constant feedback from development volunteers and farmers who use the organization’s services every day. This is probably best illustrated by ECHO’s extensive seed bank and seed donation program.

We met Lindsay Watkins, who manages ECHO’s small seed bank, while she was toting her baby back to her house on campus. Most staff both live and work at ECHO.

Not only does Lindsay help maintain a collection of all the tropical plants and trees grown on the farm, but she also manages ECHO’s seed donation program. ECHO gives seeds to groups and farmers who request them for free, with the hope that growers will plant those seeds, collect and save them from the crops they grow, and share them with their community. But just as important as the seeds Lindsay sends out is the feedback she gets in return from those that receive them.

Lindsay makes sure to provide growers with a questionnaire that asks about climate conditions and harvest results, among many other relevant details. While it can sometimes be difficult to get responses from growers given conditions in the field, the information that Lindsay does receive helps her determine in the future where to send different seed varieties and which crops farmers find most useful. By taking this constant feedback from the ground into consideration, ECHO can continue to fine tune their extensive collection of sustainable and productive solutions for other growers around the world.

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