Scientific Publication

Gender and Farmer Preferences for Varietal Traits: Evidence and Issues for Crop Improvement


Varieties with new traits or trait combinations provide farmers with options to succeed and to adapt to changing agroecological and socioeconomic conditions worldwide. The production goals, access to resources and coping strategies and the corresponding varietal traits vary, however, for different groups of farmers, with gender differences often being critical. Although molecular biology advances now enable more targeted use of genetic diversity, our capacity to assess farmer preferences for varietal traits to guide breeding efforts in responding to specific users, women and men remains an open question. This review of the “state of the art” of gender differentiation for varietal trait preferences examines what research was done where, the methods used, the patterns and underlying causes of gender differences for trait preferences, how this knowledge can be used and the support needed for gender‐responsive breeding. Studies reporting gender‐differentiated trait preferences are of worldwide origin, with a majority from Sub‐Saharan Africa. Diverse crops are covered, with cereals most represented, followed by legume‐, root, and tuber, and other vegetatively propagated crops. Women's preferences focused on production and use‐related traits whereas men's trait preferences were fewer in number and more related to production and marketing. Women also more frequently valued food security traits such as early maturity, multiple harvests, and productivity even in “bad” years or soils. Trait preferences differed when women and men had contrasting roles and responsibilities for various crop production or postharvest activities. They also differed when women and men grew the same crop under different conditions or for different purposes. Diverse methods were used to elicit gender‐specific trait preferences, with farmer evaluations of variety trials a frequently used approach. The extent to which the test‐varieties differ and the representativeness of participants and trial conditions are issues for generalizing these findings. For all studies it was impossible to say how important any given trait preference is for women and men of a given social class, agro‐ecology, or geographic region. Nevertheless, inclusion of complementary women's and men's trait preferences in a given variety will facilitate responding to the full range of household needs. The use of gender‐specific trait preference information for prioritization and decision making and the need for dedicated studies of gender trait preferences with specialized socioeconomic expertise, particularly within the context of breeding programs, are discussed. The pursuit of multidisciplinary efforts, documentation of findings, transparent priority setting, and institutional leadership are all seen as keys for successful implementation of gender‐responsive breeding that contributes to achieving major development goals.