Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) is mostly considered relevant to smallholder agriculture in developing countries. PPB involves getting farmers to participate in plant breeding to overcome shortcomings in the formal plant breeding system. The potato breeding system in the Netherlands has a long standing tradition of farmer participation in breeding. This PPB differs from the ‘standard’ PPB model as there is substantial private sector involvement and the system is situated in a modern, western context. Since its inception, farmer-breeders have contributed substantially to developing this potato breeding system, which supplies a large diversity of crop varieties that are grown in very varied environmental conditions around the world and for different consumer markets. This paper describes the current organizational structure and practices, provides some historical background and analyses the functions, relations and interactions of the major actors in the system. It argues that a historically international and commercially orientated potato sector was able to prosper because of a supportive political and legal context, which provided public institutional support to private sector potato breeding activities. Farmers’ knowledge and skills are particularly well expressed and vital in breeding in potato—a very heterogeneous and vegetatively-propagated crop. A new PPB initiative called BioImpuls recently emerged and engages organic potato farmers in a search to develop late blight-resistant varieties for the organic sector. This supports the argument that farmers’ knowledge can substantially contribute to modern and diversified breeding. While Dutch potato breeding is a special case in various respects, our analysis identifies several key attributes which could inform the design of successful PPB programmes in developing countries.
- crop improvement