In this famous optical illusion, some people see a rabbit, while others see a duck. Similarly, when it comes to new crop varieties, users see them in different ways. Farmers want higher yields while consumers want better taste. The list of perspectives is long, and even longer when you take gender differences into account.
“Men and women often have different ideas about what matters most in a crop variety depending on their relationship to it. Men are likely to value it in terms of market-related traits like yield or shelf-life while women are likely to look for food security traits such as early maturity or taste. They will also consider practical qualities which affect them like the ease of processing, a role which falls heavily on women,” says Vivian Polar, Gender and Innovation Senior Specialist, International Potato Center (CIP).
Mind the gender yield gap
For too many years, these gender differences have been neglected when it comes to breeding better potato and sweetpotato varieties.
“Women tend to be responsible for food preparation, and thus have more detailed knowledge about what a good variety should bring to the table,” said Eva Weltzien of the University of Wisconsin. “If women cannot prepare more food … produced by a higher-yielding variety… they will not adopt the new variety and will discourage the men from doing so.”
For reasons like this, researchers at CIP have learned that building women’s preferences into product design from the start of breeding programs is a gender equity and economic necessity. Here’s why: Women produce more than half the food grown globally. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields by 20-30%, which would be a 4% increase of the total agricultural output of developing countries.
Putting the G+ tools to the test
The G+ Tools are designed to help plant breeders and social scientists work together so that programs integrate gender issues from breeding to implementation and impact assessment. The G+ Customer Profile Tool identifies customers for a new or existing variety by taking gender and other social differences into account. The G+ Product Profile Query Tool looks at how traits can benefit or negatively impact the women or men who will use a particular variety. For example, a higher-yielding variety favored by men for its market qualities may be rejected by women if it has a long cooking time, especially as women are often disproportionately tasked with gathering firewood and other domestic chores.
Within the last year, G+ Tools have been deployed for use with banana, cassava, potato, and sweetpotato breeding programs. around the world.