Paris T, Singh A, Singh VN, Ram PC, a paper presented at the International Symposium on Participatory Breeding and Knowledge Management for Strengthening Rural Livelihoods. 17-19 July 2006. Held at Sambivan Auditorium, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Taramani Institutional Area, Third Cross Street, Chennai 60013, India.
‘Participation’ and ‘participatory’ have become such fashionable terms recently that any kind of activity involving a group of people is termed ‘participatory’. The ideal participatory research is when the people are genuine participants in different stages of research activities rather than simply “involved” as data givers or recipients of research findings. Participatory means people actively participate by implementing and taking control of all activities during the research process. Just as there are numerous participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tools used in problem diagnosis and identifying technology options, participation of farmers in rice varietal improvement projects should not be seen as an end in itself. Rather, it should be seen as a means to an end – namely the production of varieties that are better adapted to the needs of end users in their given agro ecological environments.
Thus a major challange facing managers of institutional breeding programs is to figure out ways to foster increased participation by end users. Unfortunately however, ‘participatory research for development’ does not automatically result to participation or inclusion of marginalized groups of the society including poor women who contribute significantly in rice production and post harvest activities including seed selection, storage and processing rice for various products. Moreoever, examples of how social including gender analysis add an important dimension to assessing the potential benefits of participatory rice varietal improvement are rare.
This paper first provides the background of the participatory rice varietal improvement of the International Rice Research Insitute (IRRI) in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) in Eastern India. It describes the participatory methods and tools used in incorporating social and gender concerns in the states of plant breeding process; identifies several constraints experienced by the researchers in including women at the initial stage of the project; discusses the positive social benefits due to inclusion of the marginalized groups of the society (lower caste and women from poor farming households) and discuss challenges that will have to be overcome to mainstream social and gender concerns into end-user based participatory approaches in rice varietal improvement programs.