Selection within Farmers Crops

Most subsistence farmers cultivate landraces. A landrace is a mixture of many different lines of one crop species. These lines tend to be similar in most respects, but there is usually sufficient variation to allow selection within the landrace. This raises the possibility of selection by farmers within their own crops.

Subsistence farmers could be encouraged to select within their own landraces. This is simply a process of keeping the best individual plants for propagation. There is then an overall gain in yield and quality of crop product. If the crop is either autogamous or vegetatively propagated, these gains will be at the expense of some genetic variation. This trade-off is generally justified but it should not be taken to the point of producing a single pure line or clone. We do not want to lose too much diversity.

A second possibility is that subsistence farmers might be given variable propagating material produced by professional plant breeders, or by plant breeding clubs. Much of this material would be worthless, but the farmers would understand that they were co-operating in research. Any particularly good plant that a farmer selected would be his to keep. He could then give propagating material of it to his friends and neighbours, and to the plant breeders, for use as parent material in further breeding.

All antique domestication was the result of selection by farmers. This is a practice that has continued since the dawn of agriculture, and which deserves to continue. Plant breeding clubs would ensure that it does continue.

Only two examples of modern farmer-selection need be quoted here.

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