Participatory Varietal Selection and Promotion Programme

 Lunavada Taluk of Godhra, also known as Panchmahal district in Northern part of Gujarat, falls in the irrigated command of Kadana and Mahi projects. The area has diverse agro-ecology and socio-economy. The cropping systems are highly market oriented and hence on-farm crop biodiversity is very poor. The region is predominantly a Rice-wheat growing area.

Monoculture is highly prevalent in the region. The best example to quote is the cultivation of Rice variety GR-17, which covers 95% of the project area in Lunawada Taluk. The farm households in these villages have been growing this single variety from over a decade. The variety was introduced in the area during 1978-80. Over time, it became the most popular variety owing to its higher yield and good cooking quality fetching remunerative market price. However, due to prolonged period of cultivation, the variety became more susceptible to pests and diseases, necessitating high application of chemicals. The production costs increased substantially. But, farmers were forced to continue with the variety, as no appropriate alternative was available.

Participatory Crop Improvement Programme

The first phase of a Participatory Crop Improvement Programme included Participatory varietal selection, as it was recognised as one of the best methods in identifying farmers’ preferred crop varieties and their popularisation.  The programme was implemented by KRIBHCO (Krishak Bharti Cooperative Ltd) in collaboration with the Centre For Arid Zone Studies (CAZS), University of Wales, UK under UK DFID’S Plant Science Research Programme between 1997-1999. The first phase programme played an important role in the introduction of Gurjari paddy variety in the area. Gurjari became the predominant variety (due to higher yield and resistance to disease and insect) in the area within 2-3 years, and reduced the area of the popular local GR-17 variety from 60% to 10%. Despite its better cooking quality, GR-17 has a longer maturity time and is more susceptible to insect and pest attack. However, Gurjari itself has problems of poor cooking quality and low market price, and therefore the need for continuing varietal trials was felt. Subsequently. the second phase of the programme was commissioned, and is being undertaken by Action for Social Advancement (ASA) and CAZS in 12 villages of Godhra district of Gujarat.

The project was financially and technically supported by Centre for Arid Zone Study (CAZS), University of Wales Bangor under DFID’s Plant Science Research Programme.

Farmers as the main stakeholders. were also the co-researchers in the programme in terms of evaluating various varieties. They not only spared their land but also managed FAMPAR trials on their own. Crop management practices were decided by the farmers.

ASA was the project implementing agency and translated the project theme into the field. ASA was involved in selection of village, selection of farmers, identification of farmers need, and providing farmers a basket of choice based on their preference, procurement of seeds by staffs and farmers also from different research institutions. It facilitated various processes involving farmers. For instance FAMPAR trials , participatory performance evaluation, organising awareness programmes were some of them.

The Process

The project was conducted with over 200 households in 12 villages. The project worked with three broad categories of the farm households namely upper, middle and lower with distinction of participating and non-participating households. The type of villages viz PVS(Participatory Varietal Selection), IRD ( Informal research & Design), NPV(Non Project village and Contact village) CV have varying degree of project support in terms of technical collaboration and trial management and monitoring. The PVS villages had maximum support from PCI project team, while IRD villages received only the tangible input like seeds and rest was left to farm households.

Firstly the village head was explained about the project, its objectives and benefits.  Youth belonging to the same area and the community were selected as community organizers which made village entry very easy. This was followed by several village level meetings. A series of meetings were organised to explain the farmers about the whole programme and its merits. This resulted in several farmers agreeing to participate in the programme.

The next step was to identify the characteristics which farmers look for in a variety. The range of attributes that farmers prefer in a variety differs widely from area to area and farmer to farmer. Besides agro-climatic conditions, socio-economic issues also influence a farmer’s selection of crop varieties. A survey revealed that available crop varieties, which were recommended for the area by the State VRC, did not meet farmers’ preferred attributes in cultivars. The baseline survey of 1997 and Focus Group Discussion (FGDs) held with 10 project village farmers, indicated that varieties like GR-3, GR-4, GR-11, GR-17 and Jaya (15-35 year old) were used by farmers because of the absence of alternatives. These varieties are not only low yielding but are highly susceptible to insect-pest and diseases. Owing to consecutive years of drought, farmers were looking for early maturing crop varieties.

After the farmers’ requirements were identified, a search was carried out to identify and collect appropriate cultivars for including in the programme. The varieties included national, state or regional releases, both recent and old.

A total of 2000 FAMPAR (Farmer Managed Participatory Research) were conducted for 6 crops. In paddy, 500 FAMPAR trials of 14 varieties were conducted. 4 paddy varieties were identified and preferred by the farmers: Mahamaya of IGKVV Raipur Chhattisgarh, PR-116 of PAU Punjab, IR-64 of IRRI Philippines (in irrigated conditions), and Pusa-834 of IARI Karnal Hariyana (in poor irrigation condition). These were compared to local checks GR-17 and Gurjari. 3 paddy varieties – Vandana of CURRS Hazaribag Bihar, Heera and Vanprabha of CRRI Cuttack Orissa are in the pipeline.

Programme outputs

Farm households reported strong preference for the Rice varieties namely Mahamaya and Gurjari over their existing variety GR-17. The yield increments are as high as 50% in some villages. Similarly, in case of wheat, K-9107, Raj-3077, Raj-3777 and GW-496 were preferred over the popular  cultivar Lok-1. The yield increments are up to 30-35%.

The analysis of yield increase among different household class and between and within the villages shows some interesting differences. In IRD villages, the participating farmers from all socio-economic class registered yield increase in the rice season 2002 over base year 1997. The NPV villages show similar results except that the lower categories of non-participating farmers are at great disadvantage. The wheat results shows similar picture baring few exceptions.

Farm households reported a reduction up to 25%, in the production cost of paddy, due to shift from GR 17 to Gurjari or Mahamaya. The cost saving is on the important heads of pest control, irrigation and other costs, besides, early maturity and early vacation of the fields for subsequent crops in winter, which in normal conditions are wheat and chick pea. Early sowing of these crops saves on one pre-sowing irrigation as generally applied in Wheat and early emergence irrigation in Chickpea. Early sown crops further accrued advantages in terms of early and high premium market, escape from pest attack saving further on pest control and providing quality product.

Besides, the direct benefit to farmers there are environmental gains in terms of decreased use of soil and water polluting agro-chemicals, regeneration of micro-eco-system, balance of pest-predator cycle, reduced threat to human life by not using the agro-chemicals too frequently and in unscientific-unsafe manner.

The PCI has not only increased the potential for production but shows even great promise for increased on-farm crop bio-diversity. This can be gauged from the fact that project has introduced and tested over 34 new Wheat, 24 Rice, 13 Chickpea and 9 Maize cultivars in less than three years time.

The PCI has shown a way forward to the formal research and extension system by confirming the fact that farmers are better decision makers in their socio-economic environments and that they should be allowed to take such crucial decisions without restricting the streams of choice or imposing upon them.

Owing to its advantages, the newly introduced varieties had travelled to 25-30 non-project villages, through farmer-to-farmer spread, equalling a geographical spread of 60-80 kms.

Ensuring sustainable seed supply

Sustaining the seed supply of farmer preferred crop varieties and carrying forward PCI approaches of varietal selection, promotion and wider dissemination after the project end is a major challenge. In one village, it was found that varieties that were identified by PCI first phase and liked by farmers had disappeared due to unavailability of seed from existing seed supply sources of the area. Farmers lose their seed either through deterioration of quality (due to such external factors as storage or mechanical mixing), or because they have to sell or consume their whole seed due to financial problems. For this reason, a farmer’s seed cooperative, named Panchmahudiya Seed Production and Marketing Cooperative, was formed in 2000. In its first year, the cooperative produced and marketed 300 Qtl (business of Rs 3.5 Lakh) of seed of 4 identified paddy varieties. The economies of seed cooperatives are better than seed banking approaches: seed quality can be better controlled and the profits of business are shared amongst members of the cooperative. In Nepal, the NGO LI-Bird has successfully implemented this concept of seed cooperative under the same research project.

Going to Scale

The PCI programme has tremendous potential and, with little input requirement, can improve the economic status of farmers in very short time. The PCI methodology and small seed co-operative approach can be replicated in any part of India with any type of farmers very easily. However in many cases, the project has learned that the varieties which have been accepted by farmers, are not the ones that have been formally released, notified and recommended by the State Agricultural Universities (SAU) and State Department of Agriculture.  Despite the  well-organised formal structure for popularising new varieties, it takes 4-6 years for a new variety to reach a farmer’s field. Concerted efforts are therefore required to integrate participatory approaches into breeding programmes; and varietal release procedures need to be reformed in response to the results of farmer participatory interventions. These changes in organisation, methodology and policies are pre-requisites for the development of adaptable technologies for harsh environments.


  1. Joshi A and Witcombe J.R 1995. Farmer Participatory Crop Improvement. II Participatory Varietal Selection, a case studies in India. Experimental Agriculture 32:461-477
  2. Youyong Zhu et al. Genetic Diversity and disease control in rice. Nature 406, 718-122
  3. K. Dwivedi, Programme Coordinator, Farming Systems Research, Action for Social Advancement (ASA), IInd Floor Utkarsh Apartment Sahyog Nagar Dahod Gujarat – 389151 Tel: 0755-2427369, E-Mail:   

Yogesh K. Dwivedi

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