The Nepal rice improvement system comprises many formal and informal actors. In spite of over five decades of systematic rice research, the formal research system is still dependent on the introduction and promotion of rice varieties from International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other exotic sources. This is largely due to the lack of political commitment and lack of a sustained critical mass of researchers for rice research in the country. In addition, there has been a low investment in decentralised breeding and limited engagement with farmers in the selection process. Nevertheless, there is a long history of participatory technology development (PTD) in Nepal and farmers' innovations and their seed and social networks have contributed considerably to the rice improvement system. However, due to a lack of market perspectives in rice research, innovations of rice traders have not been positively utilised for promoting new rice varieties. Recently, the Department for International Development (DFID) Plant Sciences Research Programme (PSP) committed considerable resources to a decentralised participatory rice breeding programme that accelerated the process of developing rice varieties that are acceptable to clients. The participatory crop improvement (PCI) project was a process project that contributed to the development and spread of socially responsible, technical and institutional innovations in the rice improvement system, e.g. improvement in food self sufficiency, poverty reduction, social inclusion, policy influence and institutional innovations. Many of the outcomes of the project are a result of learning from the community and responding to the needs and aspirations of the clients. Developing understanding and working relationships with various stakeholders and signing letters of agreements (LoAs) with the key stakeholders for specific activities proved a suitable approach in terms of bringing about institutional changes. Collaborative activities with the stakeholders helped to develop understanding, strengthen networks and identify the common action points. The project was successful in influencing policy of national and international research and development agencies, both government and nongovernment. Sustained commitment to policy discussion with government line agencies through a joint Working Group resulted in a revision of the variety release procedures giving due recognition to participatory data and allowing nongovernment organisations (NGOs) and private organisations (POs) to engage in crop variety development and seed trade. Institutional innovations such as community-based seed production and distribution, informal networking with government and non-government agencies for participatory technology testing, verification and scaling up are sustainable approaches for agricultural and natural resource management and are relevant both for national and international organisations. However, more sustained institutional innovations are needed to provide benefits to the poverty-stricken farming community in rural Nepal in terms of livelihood and income security, poverty reduction, social inclusion and empowerment.
CAZS Natural Resources Discussion Paper No. 8, 47 pp.