Rice is the main staple food in Nepal. Rainfed lowland rice is grown in nearly 49% of the total rice growing areas in the country. It is directly grown in bounded soil of Tars and the terrace lands of river basin areas within an altitude of 300-750 masl. Most rainfed lowland farmers are resource-poor and socially marginalized.
Rainfed rice depends on rainfall for its irrigation. Unfortunately, the area experiences irregular downpour. Rice is subjected to drought, which causes the decline in yield. The productivity of rainfed rice is less than 2.5 ton /ha which makes it very difficult to meet the consumers' demands. To address these challenges, IRRI/NARC-STRASA project, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), has been developing drought- and submergence-tolerant varieties for household food security and environmental security.
In 2009, Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) for the suitable genotypes in drought- and submergence-tolerant varieties began at Baluwa village of Sirha district and Sahorwa village of Mahottari district through the STRASA project. Drought-tolerant rice varieties Sukha dhan 1, 2, 3 ,4 5, and 6 varieties were developed by IRRI and introduced through STRASA. These varieties have been tested in coordinated varietal trails as well as in farmers’ field trails over years at multi-locations. The mean yield obtained as 3500-4200 kg/ha under drought conditions. Drought-tolerant varieties have been released for general cultivation. The improved rice genotypes of these varieties were distributed to the farmers through PVS. The painstaking work took eight years for selecting suitable rice varieties as Sukha dhan 1, 2, 3 ,4 5, and 6 for rainfed lowland. These are resistant to blast and bacterial leaf blight. They are also tolerant to termite and stem borer. The success of Sukha dhan 1, 2, 3 ,4 5, and 6 rice varieties in rainfed lowland became popular in Nepal. Now, rainfed lowland farmers no longer experience low yield during drought. Drought-tolerant varieties are high yielding crop and could change the livelihood rainfed lowland farmers.
Scientists visited field of Sukha dhan as released in Nepal and adjoining field suffered with severe drought
Mrs. Bishnu Thapa is a 42-year old rainfed lowland rice farmer with 0.8 ha land. She lives in Bhapasi Village of Mahottari District, Nepal. Mrs. Thapa is very innovative and always wants to try new innovations in agricultural system. Because of uneven rainfall, Mrs. Thapa finds it difficult to cultivate rice with. She struggled to get good yield in her fields. She also did not know the scope for other crops in rainfed lowland during the dry season that can meet her family demands.
Shift cultivation practices in fragile rainfed areas were implemented by STRASA project. Because of this, Mrs. Thapa has started to grow drought-tolerant rice with improved technologies per scientists' advice from the National Rice Research program (NRRP) Hardianth. In rainfed lowland minority ethnic group of farmers residing and have grown with traditional varieties with poor yield. There are problems of weeds, drought with erratic rain fall in rainfed lowland since last few decades.
Efforts were made by International Rice Research institute (IRRI) and National Rice Research Program (NRRP) Hardinath to manage rainfed lowland rice cultivation with drought-tolerant varieties in Nepal. Newly developed drought-tolerant rice varieties viz; Sukha dhan 1, 2, 3 ,4 5, and 6 have shown new hope for farmers in drought-prone areas which is nearly 30 % of the total rice cultivated areas in the country. Farmers were impressed with these rice varieties and were asked to provide seeds for further cultivation. She says farmers of other villages also wanted to grow Sukha dhan because it produces high yield even with less rainfall.
In 2013, NRRP distributed Sukha dhan to increase farmers' production and create rice diversity in such environment. The results were encouraging. According to Mrs. Thapa, the varieties could be an option to produce good yield with less water. She even approached the farmers of her village to establish community-based seed production for easy access to seeds and to also help the farmers increase their income.
Sundar seed cooperative: A key institution for technology transformation in western mid hills of Nepal
The collaboration between International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS), Lamjung has conducted collaborative project work on quality seed production in the western mid hills of Nepal. The seed program helped produce quality rice seed needed by local farmers, which has received regional recognition in the country. During the IFAD TAG-706 period (2005 and 2006), farmers were demanded to have the seed of best rice varieties verified during preference ranking in PVS plots. The project team has realized the need for quality seeds to meet farmers' demands. The project initiated the community-based seed production program (CBSP) and formed “Sundar Seed Producer Group” (Sundar means modal in Nepali) at Sundarbazar, Lamjung in 2007. Sundar seed producer group is upgraded to Sundar Seed Cooperative in 2009. The coop members received trainings and physical support for quality seed production. Because of this, quality rice seed supplying is increased across of region. After completion of IFAD-TAG 706, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) funded by Bills and Milinda Gates Fundation (BMGF) was launched from 2008 to 2010 in the same villages (Sundarbazar, Purkot, and Bhanu villages) also continued the seed programs through SPGs.
The Consortium for Unfavourable Rice Environment (CURE) project funded by IFAD (2010-2013) also continued the seed activities. Validation, upscaling, and recommendation of new varieties have continued through different projects since 2005. While production, collection, storage and distribution of seed of recommended varieties has been continued since the establishment of Sundar SPG.
Project for Agriculture Commercialization and Trade (PACT) to complete the building, threshing floor, and purchasing of seed tools and equipment in the cooperative.
Furthermore, Mr. Pokharel said that they still experience quality source seed shortage (foundation seed), training in quality seed production to all farmers, seed business skills, seed rules and regulation, and creation of linkages between the farmers and government agricultural research stations and extension services.