Changing sorghum breeding in Mali through gender insights

This webinar will discuss the gender-related findings of the sorghum breeding program at ICRISAT, which ensured that end-users’ preferences and needs are addressed through specific activities at multiple stages designed to include women and men. The session will feature presentations from two experts involved in the program (below) and a moderated discussion with the audience.

Wed, 23 August 2017

Plant breeding with close farmer and researcher collaboration also opens opportunities for working directly with women farmers. In Mali, both men and women contribute to managing family fields but they play different roles in sorghum production, sorghum grain storage, family food security and food processing. In most cases, men are the head of the household and are responsible for providing the staple food for the family whereas women are responsible for food preparation and other household activities. However, women also grow sorghum in their own fields.

The sorghum breeding program at ICRISAT has incorporated end-users at multiple stages through an iterative process of setting breeding objectives and generating and assembling new variability for relevant and preferred traits based on farmer feedback and evaluation sessions. In order to ensure that various end-users’ preferences and needs are addressed in the breeding program, specific activities were designed to include men and women.

One major finding was the importance of panicle and grain quality traits for the appreciation and later adoption of new varieties. While women were clearly the experts for evaluating grain quality and processing related traits, their judgement about the new varieties was closely linked to men’s decision-making about the new varieties as well. Even though there were clear differences in competencies for evaluating specific variety characteristics between men and women, the decision-making about variety adoption, usually taken by men, was strongly influenced by women’s grain quality assessments. Desired sorghum varieties were a composite of both men and women’s trait preferences, and such varieties that meet the entire household’s requirements are more likely to be adopted. Gender differentiation led to complementarity and an overall benefit for the family and is an essential component if breeding programs are to improve adoption.


Eva Weltzein-Rattunde

Honorary Associate, Agronomy Department, University of Wisconsin – Madison, USA Eva Weltzien’s research has focused on the effective use of sorghum, pearl millet and barley genetic resources for variety development and seed systems that best meet women and men farmers’ needs in dryland production areas, in Syrian India, and West Africa. She coordinated research on sorghum improvement in West-Africa for ICRISAT for 17 years, focussing on methodologies for participatory plant breeding to address production constraints and meet family needs for food and other cereal products. Her research on enhancing local seed systems has resulted in an active network of farmer seed producer cooperatives in several West-African countries. In 2015 she was awarded the ‘Justus von Liebig Prize for World Nutrition’, jointly with her husband Fred Rattunde. She received her Doctorate degree from the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

Krista Isaacs

Assistant Professor of International Seed Systems, Michigan State UniversityKrista Isaacs is an Assistant Professor of International Seed Systems at Michigan State University. Her research combines elements of crop ecology, human nutrition, gender, and participatory research to co-create seed systems with smallholder farmers that improve access and availability of preferred, quality seed. Smallholder farmers approach their livelihood strategies from a holistic and complex perspective, and in order to develop resilient agricultural strategies – communication and collaboration across knowledge and belief systems are essential. This requires adaptive trans-disciplinary approaches and Krista is interested in developing such adaptive approaches with communities.In practice, she has worked in several regions, including northern Rwanda and Mali. In Rwanda she worked with farmer associations to identify ideal plant characteristics for beans in bean-maize intercropping systems, assessed changes in crop diversity due to government policy shifts, and interviewed farmers to understand how this impacted their food security. In Mali, she worked with the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals and Grain Legumes researching farmer adoption of hybrid sorghum varieties, and gender and participatory plant breeding methods. She aims to practice an inclusive science, where the diverse and varied needs of all voices are heard and contribute to the process.

Photo: M. Sidibe

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