CGIAR Gender

Crafting the next generation of CGIAR research – Gender integration in breeding programs

One of the final outputs of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, a book, introduces critical ideas for the next generation of CGIAR gender research: ‘How can agricultural research contribute to gender equality in its own right?‘. This series introduces each of the forthcoming book chapters.

Vivian Polar, Gender Research Coordinator for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) (photo credit: CIP)

In this post, we zoom in on the chapter ‘Gender integration in breeding programs’ with co-author Vivian Polar, Gender Research Coordinator for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Our chapter offers an alternative perspective on why gender issues with technology development are important to advance towards gender equality.  This analysis focuses particularly on the case of breeding for agricultural development, examining in detail how breeding can contribute to gender equality and what entry points need to be addressed. The chapter stresses that generating meaningful technology choices and opening decision-making structures offers opportunities to better include women’s voices and choices about breeding and technology development. In turn, this can trigger meaningful changes towards gender equality.

Our chapter is on a very specific technical topic, breeding, which is a key and core area of CGIAR. Breeding receives a lot of funding, so addressing gender in this area is crucial. We have worked on a broad literature base and brought together gender specialists and breeders from various breeding programs across CGIAR from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT); the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB); the International Potato Center (CIP); Bioversity International; the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); the WorldFish Center; and, the Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI). But we also considered structures of national agricultural research systems, or the private sector. Most experiences are distinct from one another and have addressed gender analysis in multiple ways and at different stages of the breeding process. 

An important elaboration in the chapter is the fact that changes need to take place not only at the level of technology choices but at the structural level. Much like women’s vote progressively triggered further changes for women’s empowerment. We propose that changing structures in breeding – to systematically address the needs, priorities and constraints faced by women – can produce changes in women’s empowerment and advance us towards gender equality. However, there is a big evidence gap in terms of measuring, tracing and describing the contribution of breeding processes and products to gender equality. The chapter takes this evidence gap into account and presents a prospective impact pathway. The latter describes how addressing gender early on (from setting breeding priorities) can trigger specific changes in empowerment dimensions and ultimately in gender equality.  This impact pathway is coupled by a detailed analysis of experiences and proposes an evaluation and learning framework to address the research agenda in the future.

In the future, breeding should systematically include gender and consistently assess progress in different stages of the breeding cycle. Women are part of the agricultural labor force and they benefit differently from a new breed or variety. We can and should enhance their decision-making at higher level to contribute to more suitable technology choices for men and women in different environments, and to suit their different needs and constraints (access to land, inputs, credit etc.). At least it would help us face the constraints that people are living under.

Finally, we also hope that our paper will contribute to the ongoing issue of not learning enough from past experiences. We propose for example that adoption and impact studies go beyond the ‘male- / female-headed household‘ paradigm and into collecting gender relevant data that enables researchers to understand the patterns of adoption by gender and the impact of the breeding products on gendered segments of the population.  This opens up the opportunity to work on how to make the most of existing studies and generate evidence that works towards achieving gender equality.