Seed systems include actors and activities from conservation to multiplying, breeding, ensuring seed quality, improving and distributing seeds. Some 80%-90% of seed used by smallholder farmers in developing countries is sourced from the informal seed system: saved from their own crops, bought from a market or shop or exchanged with friends and neighbours. Functions in the formal seed system tend to be taken on by specialized bodies and simplified for efficiency, which can lead to an impoverishment of genetic diversity. Seed systems are dynamic institutions, constantly in a state of flux. The gender challenge is to understand how these dynamic institutional innovations affect women and men, to make sure that impacts do not widen the gender gap. When improvements are made to seed systems, the benefits must be equitably shared. One common past shortcoming in breeding systems was to involve only men farmers in the identification of important traits. This frequently led to a rejection by women farmers when the ‘improved’ seeds lacked traits they valued.
Gender in seed systems and plant breeding
Bioversity International includes both women and men in seed system activities from high-level decision making to implementation tasks. Bioversity International’s work on community seedbanks is one area in which we have put a strong focus on equitable gender outcomes while achieving more inclusive results for biodiversity conservation and use. A community seedbank is more than just a physical place where sees are stored, it is also an agreement among individuals to jointly conserve their traditional varieties of crops and exchange these genetic materials with others. Over the past 30 years, seedbanks have been established around the world from Guatemala to Uganda and Nepal. They are especially important in areas where farming systems are subsistence-oriented, deeply connected to local food culture and situated in complex, risk-prone and low-input environments.
With contribution from Bioversity International, a set of policy briefs published by CIFOR in light of the upcoming Global Landscapes Forum, provides guidance to better identify and address gender issues in climate policy and action.
In South Africa, a community seedbank was established in Gumbu, with strong spontaneous involvement of women. Today 40 women farmers manage the community seedbank. They give priority to nutritious and tasty crops and varieties that are easy to combine in traditional dishes, require few inputs, are drought, pest and disease resistant and have a short growing cycle and long-term storage quality. The first seed collection included Bambara groundnut, bean, calabash, cowpea, finger millet, maize (red, yellow and white), melon, mungbeans, pearl millet, pumpkin, sorghum and sweet sorghum and watermelon. A new structure was inaugurated in 2016. The Gumbu women stated that they will use the new structure not only for their seeds, but also as a new space for women to meet and interact about other village matters.
In Kiziba seedbank in Uganda, established in 2010, a concerted effort was made from its inception to involve both men and women in the decision-making committees of the project. From a biodiversity perspective, the project has been a success: the number of available bean varieties has risen from 27 before the project began, to 69 (as of 2016). Not only has quantity improved, but also quality through training, monitoring and screening activities. Yields have increased by 50%. From a gender viewpoint, six of the twelve members of the management committee are women, and 60% of seedbank beneficiaries. Joy Mugisha, the seed quality assurance manager, was among 13 farmers declared ‘best farmer of the year 2016’ from a pool of 710 candidates.
Bioversity International is working with the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative to integrate gender-oriented research, especially gendered trait preferences, into the banana-breeding process using a participatory varietal selection methodology. Field activities will be conducted with local partners in five project areas in Uganda and Tanzania.
Joy Mugisha is leading the way for rural women in Uganda by conserving and promoting local crop diversity.
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