Promising Opportunities: The Role and Importance of Gender in Biofortification Research

Following last month’s post on why HarvestPlus conducted a Strategic Gender Assessment, this month Ekin Birol (Head, Impact Research Unit and Senior Research Fellow, HarvestPlus) and Amy Saltzman (Senior Program Analyst, HarvestPlus) share initial findings from the Strategic Gender Assessment and how HarvestPlus is planning to implement the recommendations.

A school cook prepares roti (a tradtional flat bread) from high-iron pearl millet in Andhra Pradesh, India. A recently published study shows that this new, conventionally-bred variety of pearl millet can provide the full daily iron needs of young children. Photo: Alina Paul-Bossuet (ICRISAT). Source: Flickr (HarvestPlus)

A school cook prepares roti (a tradtional flat bread) from high-iron pearl millet in Andhra Pradesh, India. A recently published study shows that this new, conventionally-bred variety of pearl millet can provide the full daily iron needs of young children. Photo: Alina Paul-Bossuet (ICRISAT). Source: Flickr (HarvestPlus)

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to make familiar staple foods that people eat every day more nutritious, using a process called biofortification to breed higher amounts of vitamins and minerals directly into staple foods. These staple crops include bean, cassava, orange sweet potato, rice, maize, pearl millet, and wheat.  As HarvestPlus began its third phase – delivery – in 2014, we commissioned an independent Strategic Gender Assessment (SGA) to help us better integrate gender throughout the program so as to reach our goal of improving micronutrient intakes for 50 million people, primarily women and children, by 2018.

In addition to delivery, HarvestPlus and its partners continue to conduct inter-disciplinary research in participatory breeding, human nutrition, food sciences and social and economic sciences to inform crop development and delivery efforts. Another important aim of this research is to prove the concept of biofortification, in other words, to show that it works.

Given this significant role of research in biofortification, the SGA also evaluated various research outputs (including published journal articles, working papers, survey instruments, and reports) in consultation with key scientists. Led by Cheryl Doss, this component of the SGA was based on the premise that a better understanding of men and women – as farmers, consumers, parents and sellers – and the dynamics of decision-making within households could help HarvestPlus reach its goals.  Because men are often decisionmakers when it comes to the adoption of new technologies and market participation, and women are typically decisionmakers about processing and preparing food and feeding their families, it is particularly important to understand how men and women understand and respond to biofortified crops and the opportunities these crops provide.

The findings of the SGA on research suggested that even though HarvestPlus research outputs are “overall, excellent” in quality, and sex-disaggregated data are collected systematically, there are opportunities to improve the integration of gender considerations in hypothesis development, data collection and analysis. The SGA made several actionable recommendations, including re-analyzing previously collected data with a gender lens; developing a better understanding of gender and intra-household decision making among target households; and identifying key gender-related research hypotheses during the design of new research projects.

Several of these recommendations are already being implemented. For example, data on consumer acceptance (sensory evaluation and willingness to pay) of biofortified foods is currently being re-analyzed with a gender lens to understand better if men and women’s acceptance of these crops differ.  We are also planning to include a version of the women’s empowerment in agricultural index (WEAI) in the upcoming impact assessment study on the adoption of iron beans in Rwanda.  We will be investigating hypotheses on the role of gender in adoption of these varieties and the impact of varietal adoption on various outcomes for women (e.g., iron intake, time allocation and income).

HarvestPlus is committed to improving integration of gender into our research portfolio, because better consideration of gender could help us reach our goal more effectively, not to mention more efficiently and equitably. As stated by the SGA team, “HarvestPlus could become a thought leader for improved understanding of the role of gender in promoting nutritional outcomes from agricultural investments.” This is a promising opportunity that we embrace.

 

This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CRP on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log-in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed-in or registered in order to leave a comment.

Speak Your Mind

*

*