“Women are a key part of the mainstream in agriculture, yet they face formidable obstacles,” said CIMMYT gender and development specialist Vongai Kandiwa during a recent seminar in Nairobi, Kenya. Vongai was speaking on the importance of having a strategy to put men and women’s concerns and experiences at the centre of research design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. This involves looking at the socioeconomic settings of men and women to ensure that they benefit equally – often referred to as “gender mainstreaming.” The seminar was attended by colleagues working on various aspects of maize technology development, production, and dissemination. “By closing the gap in access to technology between men and women, we could increase productivity by 30%,” said Vongai, referring to the State of Food and Agriculture report (2010-2011) by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). According to Vongai, this would contribute to child survival and nutrition, as “women are key to household food security.”
Mainstreaming gender in maize improvement research
The agricultural relay: Helping smallholder farmers reap the most from maize seed
At the first sign of the short rain season, it is time to till the land and plant. In these harsh times, when rain is scarce, some farmers opt to plant before it comes to take advantage of every drop. James Mativo from Makaveti Village in Kyanzasu sub-location in Machakos County is one such farmer. He proudly displays a healthy crop, with green maize ripe for plucking to recent visitors. “I planted just before the rain season began, to ensure that the crop would sprout when the rains came,” he explains.
For many farmers in the semi-arid Eastern Province in Kenya, preparing fields ahead of the rains is not enough to guarantee a good harvest. Having the right seed is vital too. Mativo buys certified seed, suited to the area’s climate, from Dryland Seed Company in Machakos town. “For these dryland varieties, the first rains are very important,” explains Peter Mutua, a Dryland agronomist. “It allows the farmers to take full advantage of this scarce resource from germination. This is particularly important as most farmers grow maize under rainfed conditions in Kenya, even in the semi-arid areas.”
Just as a relay is a team effort, so is the process of delivering quality seed to farmers. It takes many people, working together, to ensure that farmers get the best seed suited for the climatic conditions in their locales. Take the case of drought tolerant maize varieties: the process starts with breeders who develop the germplasm and share it with research partners, who pass the baton to the seed companies, who produce large quantities of the seed, which smaller-scale farmers buy from the seed companies. The companies cross-pollinate sources of desirable traits to develop maize varieties relevant for the farmers. Often they start with sources from public research organizations like the CIMMYT.