In May 2022, the Nigerien team welcomed the visit of an expert from FiBL, who provided valuable technical and scientific support. During the week of visit, three main aspects regarding CROPS4HD project were covered: to strengthen the training of stakeholders on the participatory varietal selection approach, to support the monitoring of the implementation of PUSH components, and finally to supervise the collection process of Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS) ecotypes. This mission had a wide range of activities; beyond technical support, discussions on the preconditions necessary for the success of the process were also conducted. This support on several aspects of the implementation of the project have been very well received by the team as well by its partners. In terms of capacity building, the FIBL mission strengthened the capacity of five researchers and technicians from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), three SWISSAID agents, two groups of producers from the commune of Dankassari and one agent from the Fédération des Cooperatives Maraîchères du Niger (FCMN Niya).
In relation to main exchanges, two important exchanges with the local PULL partners took place. Those exchanges provide the opportunity to bring better clarity of the research approach, to discuss the recommended steps and to provide implementation advice. During the first meeting, FiBL was able to pay particular attention on the Baby and Mother trials approach as well on the availability of genetic material related to the cultivars selected for the experiments in 2022. Furthermore, an examination of the mechanisms of transfer of external genetic material has been made which led to the decision to start collecting ecotypes but also to request for the transfer of genetic material from institutions such as the World Vegetable Center (WVC) and other relevant certain institutions in the sub-region. During the second meeting with FCMN Niya, the discussion focussed on the management of the demonstration plots and agroecology and led to relevant decisions. Those concern therefore the participatory diagnostics conducted by the partner and the determination of the thematic needs in demos plots (fertilisation, biopesticides etc.) such as the establishment of a protocol to conduct the demonstration.
Regarding the direct support, the presence of the expert was greatly appreciated for the launch of the NUS collection in the project area. The research team was accompanied by SWISSAID staff at each stage of the process with assemblies held in the village to explain 1) the CROPS4HD approach, 2) the purpose of the collection as well as 3) the benefits for the farmers. This was followed by the identification of seed keepers or seed holders in each village and the collection of information on each ecotype and species. This process enabled the supervisory team to note: the enthusiasm of communities to adhere to the project approach, the agreement of communities to present their seeds, the diversity of species conserved by farmers and the diversity maintained within the ecotypes and finally the farmers’ knowledge in terms of ecotypes, morphotypes and other characteristics of each species.
At the end, the support mission timely in triggering the implementation of participatory research activities. As stated, beyond its technical contribution, it allowed stakeholders to assess the extent of the measures required to achieve the objectives of the component. Moreover, recommendations were made at different levels to guide activities such as the finalisation of the NUS collection process, the establishment of an experimental protocol, the need to prepare the field, the rehabilitation of the sites, the continuance need for online training during the installation of the crops at the station and in the fields. Based on the success of this mission, a second support mission will be organized during the vegetative development of the crops was also emphasised.