Experiences with a participatory seed improvement initiative as a strategy for combating food deficits in a remote community in eastern Nepal are outlined. On the basis of participatory methods of problem assessment, food deficits were attributed to several factors, such as limited arable land, poor soils, and lack of access to improved seeds and other agricultural services arising partly from the lowland and gender biases of national planners. Additionally, an increase in the number of households headed by women and the greater agricultural burden placed on women as a result of male out-migration have contributed to the problem of food deficits.
During times of scarcity, women's preferences for nutritional value and easy postharvest preparation are subsumed by the more immediate need for higher yields. Most of the crop varieties preferred by women are land races; hence, it is proposed that these crop varieties become the focus of future crop improvement initiatives to sustain crop diversity while addressing the needs of women.
A strategy to develop capacity among women and men engaged in farming through a local community development organization was devised in consultation with the community, on the basis of criteria for participation by innovators and in recognition of gender-differentiated knowledge and the respective roles of women and men. The outcomes of the initiative were the development of a seed bank and plans for more advanced technical training to enhance local breeding practices, with an awareness of the gendered aspects of crop selection.