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Participatory Plant Breeding adding value in Nepal

One approach to benefit sharing involves creating reward and support systems that allow farmers to profit from the contributions they make to the global genetic pool. This can be done by adding value to the crops they grow, which again can contribute to improved livelihoods and increased income. As will be seen from this example from Nepal, this can be possible when farmers and scientists collaborate in participatory plant breeding (PPB).

In recent years Nepal has been giving greater priority and attention to the conservation of its rich biodiversity. Conservation efforts have largely been targeted at the country's many protected forest areas, national parks and reserves, but agricultural biodiversity is now gradually being recognized as an important component of the national biodiversity and worthy of conservation efforts. The value of agricultural biodiversity for Nepalese farmers and thus the importance of conserving it have been further established by research and development initiatives undertaken in the last 10 years. Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), a civil society organization, has been a pioneer in promoting on-farm conservation of agricultural biodiversity in Nepal since 1997. Working with several international and national partners, among them Biodiversity International, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), the Department of Agriculture and community-based organizations, LI-BIRD has identified various good practices for community-based on-farm conservation of agricultural biodiversity. This sub-chapter highlights some of them, focusing on participatory plant breeding.

Traditionally, farmers in Nepal have maintained a high degree of agricultural biodiversity on their farms and in their communities. More than 90% of their propagating material has come from their own production or farmer-to-farmer exchange. In addition to being vital to the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity the local seed-supply systems have been crucial for the food security of resource-poor farmers. But also in Nepal the agricultural production system has been affected by technological changes and greater integration into the market economy. This has resulted in a gradual loss of agricultural biodiversity and a need to restore traditional knowledge and conserve biodiversity.

Farmers participating in a LI-BIRD project. Photo: Pratap ShresthaLI-BIRD's experiences in Nepal show how strategies that provide farming communities with incentives to act together and that benefit farming households have been helpful in promoting on-farm conservation of agricultural biodiversity. These strategies capitalize on the opportunities for conservation inherent in the utilization of genetic resources for meeting cultural and development needs - especially strategies based on social values, and strategies based on economic incentives. The former promote on-farm conservation of agricultural genetic resources by increasing their uses in the socio-cultural rituals; and by providing social recognition and awards. Strategies based on economic incentives involve conservation through value addition aiming for increased production, desired traits of economic value, together with increased marketing and thus a higher cash income.

LI-BIRD has been promoting approaches which support farmers and farming communities in taking the lead role in the conservation and utilization of agricultural biodiversity. These approaches are referred to as good practices for on-farm conservation of agricultural biodiversity and are collectively known as community-based biodiversity management. These approaches involve raising the understanding of local knowledge and practices on the cultivation and use of the community genetic resources, and building the capacities of local community-based organizations and farming communities to plan and implement conservation and utilization strategies. The measures employed include seed fairs, a community biodiversity register, a community biodiversity fund and a community seed bank. Here the focus will be on value addition, marketing and participatory plant breeding.

In Nepal, rural and urban consumers generally prefer local plants and their products for their taste, as well as their associations with family tradition and cultural rituals. However, due to low productivity and low volume of production, marketing of many of the local plants is difficult and usually not profitable. On-farm conservation of such plants is therefore often endangered because fewer and fewer farmers grow them. LI-BIRD has been working with several farming communities to improve the perceived value of many under-utilized crops by adding value through processing and packaging, and then marketing them as quality food. Local crops are also promoted by using them to make non-traditional modern food, like Western-type bread, cakes, cookies, noodles, and so on in an attempt to attract young people. Because of these interventions, the production area of local crops like finger millet, anadi rice (a sticky rice with medicinal and cultural value), buckwheat and taro has been steadily increasing in the farming communities participating in the programme.

LI-BIRD's extensive experience in participatory plant breeding has successfully been used for on-farm conservation of local rice varieties. The basic principle of the conservation-oriented PPB is to add value to the local plant varieties by further developing traits with economic or socio-cultural value and conserving the genes of these varieties in the process. Jethobudho - an aromatic rice land-race of the Pokhara Valley - was enhanced though PPB and has now been formally registered by the national variety release authority. As a result, farmers and farming communities in the area now possess ownership rights to Pokhareli jethobudho, the enhanced Jethobudho variety. Grassroots-based breeding programmes of this type have also promoted farmers' innovation in local crop development.

PPB has been used to combine the conservation of plant genetic resources with development goals. An example illustrating the success of this is the excitement displayed by one of the participants at the performance of some of the resultant rice varieties. Mrs. Radha Adhikari, a member of the PPB group at the Begnas project site in Nepal, is very happy with the three rice lines she has selected from a cross between mansara and khumal 4. Mansara is grown locally and is known as a poor farmers' variety. It performs rather well in conditions of low fertility and limited access to water, but the eating quality is poor and it does not pay well when sold at the market. To improve the eating quality of this variety, it was crossed with khumal 4 - a fine-quality modern rice variety. The new rice lines selected and developed by Mrs. Adhikari have the good cooking and eating qualities of khumal 4, while retaining all the positive qualities of mansara. Many farmers from the village have approached Mrs. Adhikari for information on and seed from the new varieties. As a result of successes like this, both farmers and scientists increasingly appreciate PPB as a viable strategy for combining conservation with development goals in farming communities.

A key lesson from this example is that linking conservation with development is an important strategy for promoting conservation of agricultural biodiversity on-farm. By implementing a community-based approach to biodiversity management, it is possible to make farmers and farming communities important partners in the project and to secure their continued motivation to persist in these endeavours. When trying to take development into consideration in addition to conservation, the adding of value to traditional crops becomes particularly important. This project is also yet another example of how collaboration between farmers and scientists can prove fruitful, and how an NGO can be vital in initiating and facilitating such projects, rewarding and supporting farmers' contributions.

(The information in this text is derived from an article by Pratap K. Shrestha, Executive Director, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), Nepal, published in the Lusaka Report (Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Norway, 2007: 69-74))

Pages in this sub-section:
   Creating incentive structures from the ground in the Philippines
   Community seed fairs in Zimbabwe
   Community gene banking and on-farm conservation in India
   Dynamic Conservation and Participatory Plant Breeding in France
   Participatory plant breeding adding value in Nepal
   Capacity-building for seed potato selection in Kenya
   The Peruvian Potato Park
   Rewarding best practices in Norway
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 In this section:
  What is a 'success story' of FR?
  Success stories from the realization of the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed
  Success stories on traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity
  Success stories on benefit-sharing measures
  Success stories on participation in decision making
  Common features

Photo: Pratap Shrestha, Nepal