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Addressing the gender deficit in wheat production

Apr 26,2015

A failure to sufficiently consider gender will only partially transform sub-Saharan Africa’s wheat sector.
What are the constraints facing women farmers in the agricultural production systems of sub-Saharan Africa? And how can we overcome women’s limited access to technologies, inputs, and information as part of an overall effort to transform productivity and achieve equitable rural development? These were some of the questions posed at a recent workshop in Sudan where researchers initiated a strategy to address gender deficits in wheat production.  
 
A failure to sufficiently consider gender will only partially transform sub-Saharan Africa’s wheat sector. Without properly considering the role of gender issues in technology design, for instance, the benefits of subsequent technologies may be limited in their abilities to equitably benefit men and women, and may even exacerbate inequalities and the workload of women.
 
Considering gender issues in technology dissemination is equally important – this process needs to respond adequately to gender specific limitations, roles, and opportunities to help increase adoption and impact.
 
Acknowledging this, an ICARDA-led initiative recently held a workshop in Sudan – an effort to ensure researchers give gender issues the highest priority, and that the needs and requirements of women producers are adequately reflected in on-going activities.
 
SARD-SC – or Support to Agricultural Research for the Development of Strategic Crops in Africa – is a multinational CGIAR-led project that targets enhanced food and nutritional security. ICARDA is managing the project’s wheat component, which is also working within the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.  
 
Incorporating gender
 
Reflecting the initiative’s multi-disciplinary nature, the Sudan workshop brought together some 50 participants from 12 countries, including wheat breeders, socio-economists, agronomists, and monitoring and evaluation specialists – in addition to gender experts.    
 
Discussions focused on opportunities for integrating gender into the projects’ three main components: generating agricultural technologies and innovations; the sustainable dissemination and adoption of agricultural technologies and innovation; and capacity strengthening.
 
Other issues were also highlighted: strengthening the role of women in postharvest and processing; access to technologies and innovations in different cultural and social contexts; the limited number of female extension agents – and the difficulty this presents in terms of promoting and disseminating new innovations to women farmers; and land ownership, overwhelmingly dominated by men.
 
The workshop also provided an opportunity to reflect on the status of women farmers across some of the countries where SARD-SC is working, and included presentations on experiences in Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
 
The presentations also provided an update on SARD-SC impacts. In Sudan, where 43 percent of participants are female, women have been successfully incorporated into value-additional activities such as baking and pastry-making, for instance. Similar achievements have also been accomplished in Nigeria, where women have initiated small-scale enterprises to produce breads, biscuits, and cakes.   
 
Planning ahead
 
Successfully integrating gender into the initiative requires prior understanding of the distinct roles played by men and women in wheat production systems, helping to avoid predetermined assumptions and identity priority interventions. 
 
Based on existing experience and knowledge, workshop participants initiated the development of a work plan to guide gender integration over the coming year, empowering women to participate in the following activities: conservation agriculture; varietal selection – helping to choose varieties with superior taste and cooking qualities; seed production; and modern irrigation, fertilization, and other agronomic techniques.     
 
These activities, it was decided, would be taken forward by three working groups, divided by region: South Africa, East Africa, and West Africa. Potential partners were also discussed – NGOs with the experience and connections to help strengthen the role of women in wheat production.
 
Targeting gender relations
 
In addition to targeting women directly, it was decided that gender would also be integrated through a focus on ‘gender relations.’ Rather than working with women in isolation – as most programs do – SARD-SC will therefore also engage with husbands and male community leaders.
 
This approach takes into account the social and cultural realities of rural communities and helps to gain the ‘buy-in’ and trust of all community members – a necessary prerequisite to ensure that improvements benefit everyone equitably.  
 
This blog first appeared on the SARD-SC (Wheat) website, providing an overview of the initiative’s on-going research activities. The initiative is conducted within the framework of the CGIAR Research program on Dryland Systems and supported by the African Development Bank.