Graduate student Paula Iragaba uncovered a major disconnect in the course of her research: While plant breeders in her native Uganda focus on developing cassava varieties with high yield or starch content or disease resistance, the people primarily responsible for processing and cooking the plant – women – have their own priorities.
For those end users, traits such as roots that are easy to pound into flour, or that can be harvested piecemeal, without killing the plant, are especially important. “If women want cassava that is easy to pound, and breeders don’t breed for that trait, at the end of the day, women may not adopt improved varieties,” Iragaba said.
Soon after arriving at Cornell University in August 2014 to begin coursework toward a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics, Iragaba had the opportunity to discuss her findings with Bill Gates himself. The occasion was a lunch roundtable held during Gates’ learning visit to the Cornell campus on October 1st. During the visit, Iragaba and several other graduate students from Cornell’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences also presented their field research on cassava, as well as maize and wheat. Iragaba described her work in Uganda’s Nakasongola District, where she has documented the different cassava traits that are preferred by men and women.