Participatory approaches



Farmer participation and breeding rice for rainfed rice environments



  • To describe the need for farmer paticipation in rice breeding

  • To clarify the social science component and the plant breeding component in participatory plant breeding (PPB)

  • To describe farmers’ criteria for selecting rice varieties

  • To explain how to use attitude, skills and knowledge to obtain quality information and effective cooperation from farmers

  • To describe appropriate interview techniques to facilitate group discussions or individual interviews




1. Why involve farmers in rice varietal evaluation and selection?  


While classical  breeding has been successful in favorable rice environments there has been limited impact in unfavorable rainfed environments.

Despite the many released rice varieties, adoption rates by the farmers remain low.


Possible reasons for poor adoption of modern varieties in rainfed environments



Often the researchers do not understand the farmers’ needs. They assume that improved productivity (yield) is enough to ensure the adoption of a new variety by the farmers.


There is a huge variability in rainfed areas. Farmers seldom adopt developed technology packages. Farmers will rather ADAPT than ADOPT technologies as they like to experiment. Farmers often lack access to new technology options and information about the benefits and limitations of the options.


-->There is a lack of innovative methods in technology transfer and scaling up.




2. What is the goal of "participatory plant breeding" (PPB)?


To increase the adoption of improved rice varieties suitable for rainfed ecosystem and hence increase food (rice) security of the resource poor households and communities.












3. The social science component in PPB


Participatory Plant Breeding involves outside its plant breeding component also a social science component.


For example:

  • Select and characterize the target research site (biophysical, social and economic) and typologies of farmers, gender roles

  • Understand how rice fits into farmers’ cropping/farming systems and its importance in the livelihood systems

  • Identify past and current rice varieties grown by farmers according to specific land types

  • Identify farmers’ constraints in adopting released varieties and understand selection criteria of farmers (gender, social groups, ethnicity)   

  • Facilitate and assess farmer participation in “mother-baby” trials

  • Facilitate diffusion of Participatory varietal selection (PVS) lines in the community (scaling up)   

  • Assess the impact of “farmer/community participatory approach” and adoption of lines evaluated through PVS



What are criteria when selecting research sites?

  • These sites should represent the major rice ecosystem with the problem of concern  (submergence prone,  drought prone, salt-affected, flood prone) for the breeding program

  • These sites should have an extensive rice area wherein research can make an impact   

  • Accessibility to roads and other infrastructure is important

  • On-farm trials should be visible to other farmers in the community




4. At what stages of the breeding process can farmers be involved?


 Participatory Varietal selection (PVS)


  • "Mother” trial – Researchers test advanced lines (15-25 fixed) on-farm and on-station.  Groups of farmers rank rice lines.


  • “Baby trial” – Farmers test lines from “Mother” trials on their fields using their level of management and rate performance


Eliciting farmers’ selection criteria of rice lines

managed by farmers on their own fields –”Baby” trials


Assessing the post harvest qualities of PVS lines  




Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB)


  • Farmers and breeders select plants from segregating materials – not uniform maturity


  • Evaluate materials when fixed



Sensory Evaluation


  • Farmers’ ranking according to taste and cooking quality


Assessment of cooking quality of rice





Plant breeding stages wherein farmers can participate




5. What are  the farmers’ criteria when selecting rice varieties?


Recording farmers’ assessments of new varieties gave the following results:


  • Suitable or adapted to their land types and rainfall patterns

lowlands -  long duration photosensitive varieties

uplands -  early and medium duration, photo-insensitive

  • Can withstand drought, submergence, floods, problem soils (salinity)

  • Yield (stable or higher than varieties farmers use)


But also:

  • Quality (size, color, shape and texture of grain, eating, cooking, aromatic, glutinous, color);  left-over rice stays soft, good for rice wine, good for making other rice products (puffed rice)

  • Good for livelihood uses (straw for animal feed, roof)

  • Should fit into the cropping/farming systems

  • Requires low inputs

  • Demands high price in the market

Example of a farmers’ assessment







Different socio-economic groups, gender, ethnicity may have different criteria:


Social groups

Large/Upper caste farmers want fine grains for the market while small/marginal/lower caste farmers want coarse grains which stays longer in the stomach and want varieties where the left over rice remains soft.


Gender – determined by gender roles

Men want high yields, resistant to pests and disease

Women want varieties suitable for rice products, varieties easy to thresh, varieties that can compete with weeds, the quality and quantity of straw should be good for animal feed. It has to have a high milling recovery, the rice should expand after cooking; and other quality traits



Good for making rice wine, aromatic and glutinous, black rice, good quality for special occasions, gifts...        









6. How to investigate the impact of farmer participation in breeding programs?


  • Evaluate resulting rice diversity in farmers’ fields

  • Assess changes in no. of farmers growing specific varieties, area grown to different varieties by land type, rice productivity, rice income

  • Assess adoption rate of introduced rice varieties

  • Assess attitude changes of farmers, extension workers and researchers

  • Document farmers’ perceptions on PVS and impact on their livelihood and well-being

  • Access to quality seeds and establishment of community efforts e.g. seed banks, self-help groups?

  • No. of released lines under PVS Access to quality seeds and establishment of community efforts e.g. seed banks, self-help groups

  • No. of released lines under PVS?

  • Benefit cost analysis of conventional vs. participatory approach?

  • Empowerment of farmer/communities/women farmers?

  • Institutionalization of participatory approaches in plant breeding in universities, research institutions?






7. How can non-social scientists obtain quality information and effective cooperation from farmers?


Some tips:



  • Be willing to learn and not to preach

  • Observe local protocol and norms (consider gender, ethnicity, caste, wealth) groups

  • Develop and show interest in farmers’ farming practices

  • Communicate to express and not to impress

  • Build trust and a mutually beneficial working relationship

  • Avoid non-verbal messages

  • Be respectful with farmers’ time



  • Listen actively

  • Observe closely and systematically

  • Learn and use the local language

  • Probe to add depth to farmers’ response

  • Inquire and record as neutrally and value-free  as possible

  • Make documentation recording as systematic and unobtrusive as possible

  • Facilitate farmer community meetings and explain roles, decision-making, ownership, degree and type of participation, sharing of inputs



  • Be familiar with target sites and environment (biophysical, socio-economic, cultural, political)

  • Learn farmers’ indigenous knowledge, needs, criteria, and preference, varieties they used to grow and prefer to grow

  • Understand farmers’ local concepts, criteria & measures

  • Use triangulation and gather information from diverse key informants





Appreciating Farmer’s Opinions

  • Use body language to show interest

  • Use encouraging words or gestures, head movements indicating assent

  • Use open-ended questions that invite participation

  • Rephrase what you’ve heard to show that you’re listening and that you understand

  • Request more conciseness and information on what you heard

  • At appropriate points, summarize what’s been said without distortion



Listening to the Farmer (Dos)

  • Give farmers time to respond

  • Sit comfortably, possibly on the same level with them

  • Make eye contact (as far as culturally acceptable)

  • Smile, have a sense of humor

  • Maintain a relaxed body position

  • Lean forward intently


Listening to the Farmer (Don’ts)

  • Get impatient with or interrupt the farmer

  • Contradict the farmer or point of finger to face

  • Show disapproval of farmers’ statement, even when disagree

  • Express judgement of what’s being said

  • Completely ignore women

  • Give the farmer advice during the interview

  • Convey boredom, verbally or nonverbally






8. How to do group discussions or individual interviews?


  • Pay courtesy to village leader

  • Explain the objectives of the project and seek permission to conduct interviews

  • Greet the farmers. If necessary interview key informants, separate social groups

  • Introduce yourself and your team

  • Explain to farmer why you are conducting the interviews. Build rapport.

  • Start with the phrase “We want to learn” from you

  • Avoid bringing thick questionnaires







9. How to facilitate group meetings?


  • Stop any individual from dominating the meeting

  • Encourage contributions from all farmers, especially the women

  • Guide the meeting towards its goals

  • Manage the pace of the meeting to maintain farmers’ interest

  • Assign a recorder and facilitator in the meeting

  • If possible, provide light snacks during the meeting

  • Summarize the results of the discussion


-->And remember to use the open-ended and probing questions






Type of Questions


Leading – normally imply the kind of response expected


Direct – aimed at obtaining specific information


Open (divergent) – give the interviewee free rein of expression by not explicitly directing his/her response













Open ended questions (examples)


  • Can you tell me more about this?

  • What would be an example of that?

  • What are some reasons for that?

  • Could you help me understand this better?

  • How you any other ideas about this?

  • How do you feel about that?

  • How do you think other farmers would feel about this?

  • How would you describe this?

  • What are the positive and negative traits of this variety?


Probing = a technique that


  • Combines good listening with asking questions which direct the flow of the interviewee’s spontaneous comments unobtrusively

  • Checks understanding of the interviewee’s point of view

  • Checks consistency of interviewee’s answers


By: Mirror technique (restating), Asking questions to confirm, Repeating a comment made earlier, Asking for clarification, Paraphrasing, Admitting uncertainty,...


Probing gives you more information than what was first offered


For example, the following was asked:

Why do you prefer this variety?

What do you like/dislike in this variety?





The answer you get...

How you probe for more information...

It has high/low/average yield

How high is high/low/average compared to preferred local variety?

It has high market demand

Why high market demand?

What qualities do consumers look for?

Farm laborers prefer it

Why do farm laborers like it?

We are happy with the duration

Why are you happy with the duration? What is maturity period?

Why do you like early varieties?

It is easier to grow


How can you tell it is easier to grow?

It fits our cropping system

How does it fit in your cropping system? What crops do you grow or want to grow before and after rice?




Let's conclude


The benefits from farmer participation are:

  • Adaptation of varieties on farmers field

  • Suitability of varieties to farmers condition and needs

  • Inclusion of farmer’s own innovation and local knowledge


Farmer  participation in breeding can improve the selection of suitable varieties for complex rainfed environments because

  • farmers’ are given the opportunity to screen new varieties on their specific environment rather in controlled experiment stations;

  • farmers’ selection criteria for rice varieties are better understood  by breeders


Meeting farmer needs may be better tackled by creating different varieties rather than trying to produce multi-purpose varieties  


Next lesson


This concludes this course. Please have a look at the contributors of the course and send feedback to if you have ideas to edit or improve this course.