Building Pathways to Success: Why HarvestPlus Commissioned a Strategic Gender Assessment


by Howarth Bouis | October 6, 2014

Doing gender research is one thing; integrating gender into a research program is another altogether.  HarvestPlus recently completed a year-long Strategic Gender Assessment to reflect critically on the research program's attention to gender and gendered impacts.  This month, Howarth Bouis, Director, HarvestPlus, describes how commissioning a strategic gender assessment will help HarvestPlus more systematically address gender throughout the research and delivery program.


Photo: Angoor Studios. Source: Flickr (HarvestPlus)

Photo: Angoor Studios. 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 ensure that we can reach our goal of improving micronutrient intakes for 50 million people, primarily women and children, by 2018.


Until now, HarvestPlus and its partners have focused more heavily on research – breeding staple crops, analyzing their nutritional impact on human health, and understanding consumer acceptance of new biofortified foods.  While many of our research studies and projects took gender into account in design, implementation, and evaluation, as we shift to Delivery, we want to be more systematic in understanding how gender dynamics can affect the adoption and consumption of biofortified crops.   As researchers, we know that men and women engage differently with new crop varieties and the path from adoption to consumption is not always a direct one.  But as implementers, we are just beginning to understand the full implications of how specific activities might affect men and women differently, and the best pathways through which to achieve our ultimate goals.


The beginning of Phase III gave us an opportunity to look back and move forward, while pausing to take lessons learned into account.  To conduct the SGA, we put together a team of external gender experts in agriculture, nutrition, and food security.  Between October 2013 and July 2014, the SGA team conducted a forward-looking assessment of HarvestPlus to identify gaps in gender knowledge and implementation, identify successful efforts that can be built-upon or scaled-up, and to describe where gender-related resources and tools can be leveraged to improve program performance.


Our program management team selected four delivery programs as cases – Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia, and Uganda – because they had already started delivery and offered lessons that could be applied to other regions.  The SGA team visited three of those countries, and conducted a desktop review of Uganda.  No stone was left unturned – the SGA team also assessed extensive documentation about country programs, analyzed our research and research instruments, and conducted numerous interviews with HarvestPlus staff both at headquarters and in the field, as well as producers, experts, and stakeholders in our target countries.


From initial conception to final results, the assessment took about a year.  So what did we get, and how will it help in HarvestPlus programs going forward?  First, we received a lot of documentation (8 reports) about the current status of gender integration into HarvestPlus programs, including a synthesis report, individual country program assessments, and a research analysis report.  Particularly useful was the SGA's compilation of resources and tools that we can use going forward.  We all know that there are many interesting areas for gender research in our country programs, but we are particularly interested in identifying practical examples of where unintended gender consequences could negatively affect our program impact.  A few hypothetical scenarios were identified – where more research is needed to ensure that we are reaching our target populations – which will be described in a future blog.


I recently returned from Hyderabad, where our country operations staff gathered for a week of organization and planning meetings.  I’m pleased to note that, although we have not yet finalized our approach to implementing recommendations from the SGA, the SGA process has already raised the profile of gender considerations in our delivery programs.  Country teams are thinking critically about how to better reach our target consumers: micronutrient deficient women and children.  They are asking whether men and women access biofortified planting materials differently, and what the implications of any difference may be.  In the coming weeks, HarvestPlus will be reviewing the SGA documentation and identifying key areas where a gender lens might be needed as we scale up delivery in our target countries.  I’m confident that by identifying and focusing on key gender questions before they affect adoption of biofortified crops, we will help set up our delivery programs for success.


Further reading:

  • Meinzin-Dick, R., Quisumbing, A., Behrman, J., Biermayr-Jenzano, P., Wilde, V., Noordeloos, M., Ragasa, C. and Beintema, N. 2011. Engendering Agricultural Research. IFPRI  Monograph. Washington DC: International Food Policy Research Institute. 
  • UNDP. 2007. Gender Mainstreaming in Practice. Third Edition. Slovak Republic: United Nations Development Program.


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.