Developing principles and pathways to ensure that plant and animal breeding benefits women and men

Breeders must meet the needs of the women and men to ensure widespread adoption and equitable impact. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

Because the roles of women and men in production and processing usually vary, they often have different levels of knowledge about crop architecture, taste or other traits, or the qualities of different strains of fish or animal breeds, and they may give different priorities to the genetically determined traits that underpin these attributes. It is thus critically important for new crop varieties, animal breeds, or strains of fish to meet the needs of the women and men involved in production, consumption and marketing, in order to promote widespread adoption of new technologies and ensure equitable impact.

However, despite growing recognition of the importance of taking gender into account, plant and animal breeders lack practical methods and tools to help them gather and use information about gender differences to refine their work. For this reason, social scientists and breeders from 11 CGIAR centers and partner organizations came together in Nairobi, Kenya in early October for a 3-day innovation workshop to refine operational approaches to help plant and animal breeding programs ensure that their outputs equitably benefit women and men.

The workshop, convened by the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI), created a collaborative space for experts across disciplines to share experiences and perspectives, and to further develop practical methods and tools. The meeting built on the findings of a 2016 workshop on ‘Gender, Breeding and Genomics’ and benefited from coordination with the CGIAR Collaborative Platform on Gender Research.



Main outputs from the workshop

Design principles

One of the key outputs from the meeting was the clarification and refinement of a set of essential design principles that, if used in setting up and implementing a breeding program, will ensure the integration of critically important gender considerations in decision making. A detailed brief describing the key gender-related decision points in the breeding cycle that is currently being prepared will provide a foundation for setting breeding objectives and implementing them in the successive stages of breeding.

CIP Gender Research Scientist Netsayi Mudege makes a point at the GBI workshop in Nairobi. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

“A really critical result coming from this workshop,” says Jacqueline Ashby, a social scientist and member of the GBI Organizing Committee, “was that participants identified where in the breeding cycle that specific gender-related questions must be asked and answered, and the kind of information needed to do so.” It was also clear to the participants that gender-relevant decision criteria must be applied early in the breeding cycle, when decisions are made about targeting, sampling and breeding objectives, and then throughout the product development process.

“Gender considerations can’t be an ‘add-on’ at the end,” says Ashby. “They need to be an integral part of the decision process from the beginning.”

Uptake pathway for promoting gender-responsive breeding

Another significant output was a clear uptake pathway to facilitate the adoption of gender-responsive breeding approaches. This pathway starts with delineating the theory of change, and continues to identify the essential and secondary outputs that should be produced by GBI to catalyze uptake.

“We identified several essential outputs needed to ensure the uptake of gender by breeding programs,” notes Béla Teeken (a gender post-doctoral research fellow at IITA and member of the Organizing Committee). “These include a compelling evidence base in support of gender-responsive breeding, a set of refined breeding program design principles, and an effective advocacy strategy.”

Other outputs include a roadmap for collaborating with platforms in the CGIAR, establishing and curating a vibrant community of practice engaged in advocacy and support for gender in breeding, a library of case studies, and a gender-responsive breeding toolkit.

Fundraising strategy

Workshop participants also produced a fundraising strategy linked to and supportive of the uptake pathway. This strategy identifies a set of project “work packages” or activities, many of which converge or align closely with activities described in the uptake pathway. Two options for designing and implementing the fundraising effort were developed, as was a possible funding envelop (target) and a list of potential donors, many with a history of interest in gender issues.

Recommendations for institutional change

The participants identified critical institutional changes needed to embed the design principles into gender-responsive breeding programs. “Institutional change” was defined to mean change in the formal and informal rules that guide activities at different levels within a research institution or network. The key question asked was: “What needs to change across the CGIAR or in partner organizations to create an enabling environment for gender-responsive breeding?”

In outlining recommended changes, participants identified several that should be considered “must haves” at each level, and in some instances, they suggested how to go about achieving the desired changes. “In particular,” says Alessandra Galiè, a Gender Scientist at ILRI, “we felt that social scientists must be enabled to access and process relevant data, and that management has to facilitate joint programming and decision-making by breeders, social scientists, economists and others at key points of the breeding cycle.”

The World Café posters

On day two, participants engaged in a “World Café” of poster presentations about approaches and tools relevant to gender-responsive breeding, in which small groups rotated though 10 poster presentations and engaged in intensive Q&A. The World Café provided an opportunity for refining the tools and approaches presented and for critical thinking around how they can be applied by breeding programs.

GBI will soon publish several documents resulting from the workshop, along with some practical guidelines for more fully integrating gender into the CGIAR System’s plant and animal breeding research. These products will be disseminated widely throughout CGIAR.

By Tiff Harris


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Participants in the GBI Innovation in Gender Responsive Breeding workshop held in Nairobi October 5-7. Photo H.Holmes/RTB