When farmers in Begnas find their crops are not yeilding well, they turn to local plant breeder Surya Nath Adhikari and his wife Saraswati for help.
Nearly a decade ago when imported breeds were gaining popularity, Surya Nath approached officials from a crop conservation project in Begnas, Pokhara to learn about the possibility of cross breeding local domestic rice with wild rice. The officials provided Adhikari with the know-how, but he says when he started working "with the plants, "my hand was too shaky and my eyes were
too weak; I feared that I would fail."
The farmer asked his wife to pick up the tools instead, and after overcoming her initial fears, Saraswati became adept at splicing open and combining the sex organs of rice varieties. To date, the couple have successfully completed 16 crosses of various types of local rice and three crosses of local and wild rice (the latter for the first time in Nepal).
They have also started experimenting with coffee, one of the farm's (and the village's) main cash crops, whose main market is Japan. "I hesitated at first fearing that I might not succeed...but staff from LI-BIRD [Pokhara-based NGO Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development] encouraged me and my confidence increased," Saraswati told us. Coffee, not the usual Nepali chiya, was on the Adhikaris\' stove, and neighbours arrived at regular intervals to weigh and drop off their coffee beans.
One outcome of the project was the creation of Participatory Plant Breeding groups at the village level, which meets regularly to discuss the possible cross of ekle chamal (a successful, but not the tastiest local variety) with jetho budho (famous in Pokhara for its taste and aroma). The answer may lie in the Adhikaris\' experimental plots, where the cross of the two breeds is growing.
Asked if she thinks other women should take up crop breeding, Saraswati is humble. "I'm still learning. Until I'm sure it is entirely successful, how can I encourage other women to do it? But," she adds after a moment, "if someone is interested, I'm ready to teach them."