Scientific Publication

Revisiting strategies to incorporate gender-responsiveness into maize breeding in southern Africa


In sub-Saharan Africa there is increasing focus on identifying women’s trait preferences within crop breeding to enable gender-responsive product development. In the case of maize, breeding programs are ready to incorporate specific traits to increase gender-responsiveness but lack guidance on what these specific traits might be. We propose an inductive approach to determine a pathway towards increasing gender-responsiveness within maize breeding. A survey of 306 farmers was conducted to determine gender differences in maize varieties used together with key agronomic practices. Variety was a significant predictor of the gender of the plot manager and of the household head in contrast to previous surveys conducted in researcher-led on-farm trials. On-farm trials are conducted using pre-defined agronomic management practices and preferences identified at harvest are likely to centre around yield. This study highlighted significant differences in several agronomic practices used by female plot managers and female household heads. Although further studies are required to understand preferences associated with varietal choice, our results suggest that current researcher-led on-farm trials may not identify gender-specific trait preferences driving varietal choice. Furthermore, a trait-specific approach is not the only avenue towards increasing gender-responsiveness in maize breeding in southern Africa. The scope for increasing gender-intentionality in maize breeding could be expanded to incorporate selection environments more relevant to agronomic management practices used by female plot managers and households at advanced stages of the breeding pipeline. This approach could provide an immediate entry point to increase gender-intentional maize breeding in southern Africa