Researchers from Italy and Ethiopia said their research showed that the indigenous knowledge of farmers could be measured quantitatively, and genes corresponding with the farmers’ wheat preferences identified.
The researchers worked with 60 farmers from two smallholder farming communities in the Ethiopian highlands to evaluate 400 wheat varieties for their choice of traits.
They identified genomic regions corresponding with smallholder farmers’ traditional knowledge, showing that farmers could identify genomic regions – other than those identified solely in a laboratory – relevant for breeding.
Geneticist and project coordinator Matteo Dell’Acqua of Italy’s Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies said the work was a “milestone in modern crop breeding”.
“It is the first [study] to demonstrate that the traditional knowledge of smallholder farmers has a genetic basis that can be extracted with methods already available to the scientific community.”
He added that the farmers could “teach us how to produce crop varieties adapted to local agriculture, fighting food insecurity in farming systems most exposed to climate change”.