CGIAR Gender

Webinar: Gender dynamics in formal seed system in sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide lessons

The CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research hosted and organized the webinar ‘Gender dynamics in formal seed system in sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide lessons‘ on November 21st, 2.00-3.30pm CET. The webinar was organized in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Maize.

The Victoria Seeds mobile seed shop at the Dokolo market, Northern Uganda. The company uses the motorbike shop to reach women and men farmers in remote villages where there are no agro-dealers (photo Credit: CIMMYT / Kipenz Film)

Webinar recording and presentation slides

Webinar recording

To access the recording, click on this link and enter the password: 8Scu8dRE.

Presentation slides


Improved maize seed is essential for African farming systems because of its relatively higher yield potential, better adaptation to common biotic and abiotic stresses such as diseases, pests, drought and low nutrients, and more efficient use of water. Most importantly, several studies have revealed that women farmers are less likely to use improved seed than men, leading to relatively lower productivity levels. These gender gaps represent real costs to households, seed companies, agro-dealers and society. With widespread support from donors, national governments and research institutions, the seed sector in Eastern and Southern Africa has rapidly evolved in ways that have greatly altered the landscape of seed delivery to smallholder farmers.

As the types and volumes of improved maize seeds increase, several questions arise, for instance: How do men and women farmers learn about the performance of these new improved compared to those that they presently grow? Which approaches are most effective in reaching different demographic groups? and How can one ensure that women get opportunities to learn about and access improved maize varieties? This webinar will tackle these questions.

Purpose of the webinar

To share knowledge on the practical approaches that can be used by researchers, development practitioners and private sector (seed companies and agro-dealers) to reduce the gender gap in adoption of improved varieties of seeds in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, challenges facing the development of sustainable systems for delivering seeds to small-scale farmers will also be discussed. Lessons learned from Asia and Latin America on aspects of gender dynamics in seed systems will also be shared.

Webinar discussants

Rahma Adam is Gender and Development Specialist at the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center / CIMMYT (photo credit: R. Adam)

Rahma Adam is a Gender and Development Specialist at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). Adam has previously worked as a Post-doctoral Fellow in Globalized Trade and Investments at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), World Bank Group Fellow in the Education unit in Africa Region and a Researcher for the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance at Harvard University. In terms of agricultural related research, Adam has conducted research in close to a dozen countries in East and Southern Africa, as well as the United States, with the focus on seed systems, agricultural value chains and sustainable intensification. Adam holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and minor in Anthropology from Macalester College, a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University, and a PhD degree in Rural Sociology with a focus on Agriculture, Gender and International Development from Pennsylvania State University, USA. 

Shawn McGuire is Agricultural Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization / FAO (photo credit: S. McGuire)

Shawn McGuire has worked on seed systems for 20 years, bringing a combination of biological and social sciences to understanding how seed systems function under stress, and how development interventions can best support farmers’ seed security.  Before joining FAO, he was a Senior Lecturer in International Development at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK), where he helped develop and promote Seed System Security Assessments as a rapid tool for identifying gaps and opportunities, and for designing both humanitarian and development responses.  This work, developed in collaboration with Louise Sperling (CIAT/CRS), is gathered in the website  He has authored over 25 articles or book chapters on farmers’ seed systems, local markets, and resilience, among other themes.  In 2016, he joined FAO as an Agricultural Officer to lead FAO’s work on seed security – ensuring farmers have access to well-adapted and good quality seeds and planting materials of the crops and varieties they desire. This includes conducting Seed Security Assessments after disasters to identify immediate needs and supporting humanitarian seed responses. But my work also develops seed system strategies that can build farmers’ resilience to stress, enhance nutrition, and address other longer-term goals.

Esther Njuguna-Mungai is social scientist at the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals / GLDC (photo credit: ICRISAT)

Esther Njuguna-Mungai is a social scientist, currently working as the Gender Specialist in the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Drylands Cereals that is led by the International Centre for Research in Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and a Gender Research Coordinator, GLDC.  She is coordinating a portfolio of research that seeks to understand the Gender dynamics in seed systems, Gender Yield Gap, Women participation in agricultural capacity building, interface between gender research, women and crop breeding processes, Gender Norms, and gender capacity enhancement for gender research implementation in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. She has been working with male and female smallholder farmers since 1996.  She is a graduate of Wageningen University and Research Centre (Agricultural Development – Msc) and University of Nairobi-(Agricultural Development and Economics) – PhD. 

Related resources


1.  Adam, R. I., Kandiwa, V., David, S. and Muindi, P. 2019. Gender-responsive approaches for enhancing the adoption of improved maize seed in Africa—a training manual for seed companies. Mexico, CIMMYT.

2. Adam, R. I., Kandiwa, V., David, S. and Muindi, P. 2019. Gender-responsive approaches for enhancing the adoption of improved maize seed in Africa—a training manual for agro-dealers. Mexico, CIMMYT.

3. Adam, R. I., Kandiwa, V., David, S. and Muindi, P. 2019. Gender-responsive approaches for enhancing the adoption of improved maize seed in Africa—a training manual for breeders and technicians. Mexico, CIMMYT.

4. Kandiwa, V., Adam, R., Lweya, K., Setimela, P., Badstue, L. and Muindi, P. 2018. Gender-responsive approaches for the promotion of improved maize seed in Africa. Mexico, CIMMYT.

5. Adam, R., Kandiwa, V. and Muindi, P. 2018. Gender-responsive budgeting tool for the promotion of improved maize seed in Africa. Mexico, CIMMYT.

6. Adam, R.I, Sipalla, F., Muindi, P., and Kandiwa, V.  2019. Women in the Maize Seed Business in East and Southern Africa. Mexico, CIMMYT.


  1. Women in Maize Seed Business in East and Southern Africa (A combined video of all the nine women):
  2. Josephine Okot, Victoria seed, Uganda:
  3. Stepanie Angomwile
  4. Elizabeth Sikoya
  5. Sylvia Horemans: Kamano Seeds, Zambia
  6. Dr. Zubeda Mduruma: Aminata Quality Seeds Ltd, Tanzania
  7. Dr. Grace Malindi: Mgom mera Seeds, Malawi
  8. Janey Leakey: Leldet Seed Company Ltd, Kenya

4 Responses to Webinar: Gender dynamics in formal seed system in sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide lessons

  1. Question by Bethel Terefe: What are some of the solutions tried to address the gender gap in access to improved seed varieties and are there some examples of success stories?

  2. Answer by Shawn McGuire:
    – Small packets. As mentioned by Rahma, Leakey’s company has pioneered small packets for promotion of new varieties, designed to cost the same as a cup of tea. These were popular with women as it let them try a new variety with little risk. This helped farmers get new varieties. Legumes can be re-sown, and farmers could multiply the variety themselves and keep it without any further purchase…but enough saw the value of occasionally refreshing their stocks with fresh, good quality seed, to build steady demand. The Tropical Legumes II programme supported this in east and central Africa with legumes, with great success. See Box 4.2 of “the Global Economy of Pulses” (Rawal and Navarro, 2019)
    – “Mainstreaming efficient legume systems in East Africa” (Ojiewo et al, 2018) notes the importance of legumes for women, and ways to address bottlenecks. For example, in Box 5 (p 41) they discuss how a membership-based community development organisation in Uganda (15 000 HHs, 63% women) improved access to bean seed for new varieties, and supported the emergence of small enterprises. Box 6 (p 42) gives further details about small seed packets, in Kenya.
    – Support to value chains. Increasing women’s ability to benefit from what they grow is an important, related, area for supporting women’s demand of and access to new varieties – by linking this more clearly to benefits. Women tend to be involved in marketing legumes in sub-Saharan Africa)

  3. Question by Rüdiger Stegemann: What about the informal seeds sector? What about taking local situations of adapted varieties, traditional knowledge and exchange among farms as the starting point, instead of looking for solutions com ing from the outside and “above”?

  4. Answer by Shawn McGuire:
    Thanks for your provocative question! Formal and informal are imperfect terms to describe seed systems, or indeed knowledge systems. Farming, nearly everywhere, draws from both, and blends them (e.g. community-based seed multipliers, creolized modern varieties). Same for ‘local’ – often a ‘local’ variety moves hundreds of km through informal market channels (and may have originated from research in the 1980s anyway). There are certainly cases (sorghum or barley in Ethiopia come to mind) where a farmer-managed variety may perform as well, or better, than one produced by research. These varieties tend to remain popular (though their continued use may need support). But what makes one variety ‘better’ than another depends on environment, what is being measured (yield, taste, etc.), the crop itself (e.g. ‘local maize’ in Africa is not very genetically diverse), and how research is done. There are lots of cases where farmer and professional crop breeders collaborate to develop new varieties with great success (just last week, ‘Farmers and Plant Breeding’ was published. — ‘Participatory Plant Breeding’ has been a big theme for 25 years). It is not either/or with knowledge systems. Research and development institutions could work more with local knowledge, institutions and practices, to support farmers’ capabilities and self-reliance. And local knowledge and practices get dismissed far too often by those in authority. But many researchers (and other organisations) have been working with local and collaboratively with farmers in various ways for 40+ years; it is not a new theme.
    The a bottom line is: productivity, disease resistance, resource efficiency, micronutrient quality, etc. are real challenges, and often require new technologies, which include new crop varieties. I don’t know of many cases where exclusively working with local varieties has been effective in reducing poverty.
    Finally – farmer-farmer exchange: this may not be a significant source of seed or planting material (vegetative crops like cassava or sweet potato are exceptions). They also have their own access barriers and forms of social exclusion (see Coomes et al 2015, for a review – Section III .

    Answer by Esther-Njuguna-Mungai:
    TLIII project, that is coordinated at ICRISAT, supported an activity of DNA finger printing, as an approch to confirm that what farmers called ‘local legumes seeds’ in adoption studies were not ‘improved varieties’ that came out of the research processes (which resulted in low adopted levels reported). The preliminary results seem to indicate that what local farmers call ‘local’ are mostly varieties that came out of the research process at different times, and through different non-linear exchange processes eventually gained ‘local names’. It’s also possible that in the germplasm collection missions that breeders make, results in them getting local materials (farmers varieties and accessions) that they identify as unique and are sources of unique traits that are combined in special varieties that are released back to the farmers. The line between improved and local varieties is often quite thin and it’s not exactly possible to demarcate them strictly.

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