A gender
lens for
seed systems

How can men and women farmers be enabled to participate equally in on-farm research and in using improved seed technologies and knowledge? This is a puzzle not yet solved in rural Ethiopia. However, participatory variety selection (PVS) and ‘crowd sourcing’ have given a voice to both men and women, recognizing that they can each have valuable but different experiences, preferences and knowledge. Led by the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Project in Oromia East, a Training of Trainers (ToT) approach enhanced farmers’ use of preferred crop varieties and increase impacts through gender-sensitivity.

The context

In rural Ethiopia, despite decades of efforts to improve farmers’ knowledge, skills and attitudes to improve productivity, adoption rates of new technologies amongst farmers continues to be limited. One of the reasons is that researchers and front-line extension personnel often fail to appreciate the different roles of men and women, and this is especially true regarding seed selection, production and management. A demand-driven and gender responsive training approach addresses this gap.

The ToT approach

The Oromia East Unit of the ISSD project focused on the informal seed system in east and west Hararghe zones in Oromia National Regional State, Ethiopia. In 2017, 42 woreda (district) experts and development agents took part in a training of trainers. Topics included basic principles of participatory variety selection, pre-and post-harvest seed management of crops, roles of gender and women in variety selection and management, and gender-sensitive documentation and knowledge sharing.

These trainees in turn trained 1200 farmers including 600 women, who implemented participatory variety selection, and crowd sourcing trials, a new approach to technology dissemination and field evaluation with a large number of farmers. Through simple, hands-on experimentation, participating farmers identify innovations which will be of real benefit to them. After training, each farmer was given three seed packages of different crop varieties and asked to evaluate them on their own land and based on their own selection criteria.

Choosing the best options

The training empowered and offered equal chances for both men and women farmers to use their own criteria of variety selection. Without the participation of women in selecting crop varieties, their popularization will be limited. Criteria such as taste, cooking qualities or nutritional value are often not prioritized by men. But if seeds do not qualify for these typically ‘female’ criteria, their effect in combatting food security is limited.

After training, women were more proficient in seed selection and management, and in identifying crop varieties more suitable for food, income and nutrition. The approach improved women’s resource ownership, giving them access to and control over resources that help them feed their families.

Mrs Amina Ahmed participated in trials in Chiro woreda. “I planted the three sorghum varieties given to me as A, B and C, side by side. Now they have germinated and I am evaluating each variety at different growing stages to identify the best one, as I was trained.” She added, “I am very happy to be involved in this trial. It gives me an alternative, knowing the availability of varieties other than the one I used to plant for years.”

The approach allowed a large number of farmers to try out and identify superior crop varieties, even though there were water shortages in some woredas. Still, the approach has improved formal and informal interaction among men and women farmers, development agents and district experts. The efforts emphasized the responsibility of partners and development agents to ensure the smooth implementation of activities. That stakeholder collaboration is needed at different levels is an interesting lesson for future interventions in crop variety selection and dissemination.

Written by Kemal Kasim (November 2017)
A result of Experience Capitalization training organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ethiopia, in collaboration with CTA and Guava Stories.
Pictures: ISSD-HU