• As many poor people live in the Terai region of Nepal as in the rest of the country — the Terai has half of the country's population and is no more developed. Fifteen of the 20 terai districts are much poorer than average but grow half of Nepal's rice and have a third of Nepal's population.
• Most farmers in the Terai and low hills are resource-poor, food-deficit smallholders having less than 1 ha of land. Farmers in these areas rely on rice, and improvements in yield and quality have considerable benefits for their livelihoods. They grow rice in rainfed, low-fertility fields and these farmers have had limited, or no, access to new varieties.
• Participatory rice improvement in Nepal has been carried out by a network of partners (LI-BIRD; CAZS, UK; Department of Agriculture; NARC; and several NGOs). The project has created new varieties using client-oriented methods that involve both women and men.
• Most of the new varieties are adapted to rainfed, low-fertility fields, and because they are more disease and pest resistant need less, or no, environmentally damaging pesticides. Overall, rice varietal biodiversity is increased and other innovations introduced by the project, such as kidney bean, has increased crop diversity. The new rice varieties have improved grain quality so they can fetch a significantly higher market price (up to 25% more). They have combinations of improved drought tolerance, lower production costs, earlier maturity, and yield up to 50% more grain.
• These varieties are spreading rapidly from farmer-to-farmer in all 20 districts of the Terai and most of the low-hill districts bordering the Terai, aided by participatory extension by a network of Department of Agriculture Offices and NGOs.
• They are also performing extremely well in Bangladesh in the High Barind Tract, and in droughted conditions in the poorest, rice-growing states of eastern India.
• The impacts of the project are already considerable. Tens of thousands of farming households have adopted project varieties and benefited from them.
• Projections indicate very significant benefits with high net present values (£10 million by 2010 for Nepal) and high internal rates of return (83% by 2010).
• Institutional impacts in Nepal have also been considerable. The Department of Agricultural has now adopted project-introduced participatory methods as a means of extension and NARC is an active partner in the PPB programme. Institutional impacts are not restricted to rice, but have influenced programmes in maize and wheat.
• The project, in the long term, will have great impact outside of Nepal as international and national research systems adopt the methods developed by the project. PPB methods greatly enhance the returns to investment in plant breeding by saving as much as 10 years in bringing a new variety to farmers'
Impacts of participatory crop improvement in the low-altitude regions of Nepal