Scientific research is not the only form of inquiry that is valid in assessing the virtues of agricultural practice
In 2006, Bettina Haussmann was researching pearl millet breeding in Niger. With a PhD from Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany, she was an exceptionally well-trained plant breeder. But she soon discovered her experience didn’t help her understand what smallholder farmers in this West African country were looking for in their seeds. Did they want a grain for the traditional harvest season? Or an early variety that could be used during the hungry period?
Mobile seed shop in Niger. Credit: Bettina Haussmann
‘As a breeder in Germany, I would have been trained to go for high yield, but for those smallholder farmers, it’s actually not only about yield,’ says Haussmann who is now an associate professor at Hohenheim University’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science, and Population Genetics and a West Africa liaison scientist with the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), which is an initiative of the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation. In fact, in addition to yield, the farmers Haussmann collaborates with are keenly interested in the nutritional quality of grains, a crucial factor when you consider the high levels of malnutrition in the region.