Gender-responsive breeding comes several steps closer to reality


Product profiles for cassava, sweetpotato and bean varieties will be more responsive to different gender needs, in a pilot program between the Gender in Breeding Initiative (GBI), led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and the CGIAR Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Platform.

The initiative is piloting a set of tools to enhance gender-responsiveness in the definition of breeding priorities for three crops that are vital for nutrition, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Understanding how to meet the needs of different people in the value chain – including women, men and youth – improves the chance that improved varieties end up on the market.

At a recent workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, crop breeders, socio-economic specialists and gender specialists revised a standard operating procedure to implement tools for gender-responsive breeding. Known as the G+ tools, these focus on two areas: profiling the customers of a breeding program, and defining the new varieties (product profiles) that can be targeted to their needs. After a thorough revision of the tools and procedures, the teams developed workplans to pilot the tools and generate information to enhance product profile development and decision making.

Up to speed

“Ultimately, the goal is that priorities for breeding will no longer be established without taking gender into consideration,” said Vivian Polar, Gender & Innovation Senior Specialist for RTB and leader of the piloting initiative, in opening the workshop. Polar also encouraged workshop participants to go beyond their specific crop interests and imagine how G+ tools could be applied across all contexts and crops.

Tawanda Mashonganyika, EiB product manager, emphasized how the G+ tools fit into EiB product development approach, allowing breeders to make data-driven decisions based on market knowledge to develop new varieties.

Nicoline de Haan, Interim Director of the new CGIAR GENDER Platform, noted that the G+ tools pilot project involved all three of the GENDER modules: evidence, methods and alliances. Describing the gender and breeding community as an integral part of GENDER, de Haan expressed a commitment to develop strong bonds between GBI and the Platform.

Working towards pilot workplans

Each crop-focused team then started to develop workplans to pilot the use of G+ tools. This requires having a broad range of experts and representatives involved in designing new products, and capturing their input to guide the breeding process.

Discussions focused on two salient points, defining the “customer” and “product,” and ensuring that breeding programs could adapt in response to new information.

In the case of cassava, for example, are customers the farmers who grow the crop, the women who process it, commercial entities who buy the crop in bulk, consumers who buy cassava products as food, or some other group entirely?

When it comes to gender and customer characterization, for example, there is evidence that women as cassava processors prefer certain traits more than men, though in general, trait processors have different preferences to other consumers. The design team has to decide which is more important, disaggregating customers by gender or by role in production.

Similar questions arise regarding sweetpotato and beans. Will the sweetpotato be boiled, steamed or roasted? Beans, although long important for household nutrition, are increasingly becoming a cash crop.

The discussions underlined the importance of including people who can represent the needs of crop managers, men, women and youth on the product design team, but much of this input is difficult for breeders to capture and translate into research targets. This is where G+ tools are used, resulting in product profiles that clearly describe the new, and gender-responsive, varieties that the breeding program will create.

Polar and Mashonganyika clarified some of these issues as they showed how the G+ tools are also used throughout the breeding process. To ensure that they meet their goals set at the design stage, the breeding program can define several decision points, or gates, at which they can assess whether or not their breeding materials meet the requirements of the product profile and can pass on to the next stage. The G+ product profile is used as a reference point at each gate and is continually updated so that any changes or new information about customer needs is incorporated by the end of the multi-year breeding process.

By the end of the four-day workshop, each of the three teams had developed their preliminary workplans and had also brainstormed factors that would promote the adoption of the G+ tools. Their workplans will be further refined and implemented until September 2020, when a final workshop will be conducted to derive lessons, adjust processes and consolidate product profiles that will be shared at an EiB meeting in November.

The workshop was a landmark in the G+ tools piloting process, with each of the teams looking to strengthen the product profile development process, ensuring that it includes gender in a consistent way.