Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 October 2016
Plant breeding makes genetic gains over years, so growing newer varieties generally provides greater benefits than growing older ones. However, in low-altitude districts of Nepal, a few rice varieties covered 75% of the rice area and were more than 20 years old (first paper in this series). We test here if this slow rate of adoption of new varieties could be accelerated using a participatory method, Informal Research and Development (IRD), where packets of seeds of new rice varieties are widely distributed to many farmers. From 2008 to 2011, over 117 000 IRD packets were distributed in 18 districts of the Nepal Terai, including over 70 000 of three released varieties from a client-oriented breeding (COB) programme in Nepal. The IRD significantly increased the adoption of the three COB varieties. The benefits obtained by farmers in a single growing season equal the costs of IRD, if for every 75 kits distributed an additional 1 ha is grown. This assumes that the new varieties produce a 10% increase in yield (lower than that evidenced in their release proposals). On an average, fewer than three IRD kits were distributed for each hectare of a new variety grown by farmers in 2011. Furthermore, the effectiveness of IRD could be increased 1.2 to 2.7 fold (depending on the COB variety) if the IRD distribution were to be restricted to the region where the variety was most accepted. The best comparison of IRD with extension by the conventional system was their popularity compared with similar-aged varieties that had been promoted in the two systems. The adoption of three COB varieties was about twicethat of three varieties from the National Rice Research Programme (NRRP) that were closest in release date to the COB varieties. Unlike cost effectiveness assessed by hectares grown per IRD kit distributed, this comparison can only indicate efficacy because, as well as extension method, many factors influenced the adoption rates of the COB and NRRP varieties. The costs of IRD are small, both relative to the cost of breeding new varieties and to the benefits gained; so it is one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions to increase agricultural productivity.