Ugandan researchers bring gender equality to cassava breeding

By Samantha Hautea 22 September 2017

ZOMBO, UGANDA – This October, researchers with the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project (NextGen Cassava) will launch their first gender-responsive participatory variety selection (PVS) trials in Uganda. These trials engage both men and women farmers in identifying the top cassava varieties for Ugandan consumers and producers.

Robert Kawuki

Robert Kawuki is a a cassava breeder based at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) overseen by Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

“By releasing a cassava variety for the highland areas, we aim to reduce the acreage of the local low-yielding varieties and potentially increase productivity,” said Robert Kawuki, a cassava breeder based at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) overseen by Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).  “We will also have the opportunity to gain experiential learning from the process, as the PVS trials will include an assessment of a fermented cassava product locally referred to as ‘kwon,’ in that part of Uganda.”

Selecting cassava varieties for cultivation is a long and daunting process. For example, in 2013, researchers began with 3000 cassava seedlings that were established in the Zombo district of northern Uganda. From these, they systematically narrowed the selection size to the most promising clones, which were then advanced to the subsequent season. In 2016, they identified the top 30 clones for the highlands. From these, the six most promising clones were selected, which are the varieties that will be planted in farmers’ fields this October and harvested in November 2018 as part of the trials.

For the first time, these trials will use a gender-responsive research protocol developed by researchers trained in gender-responsive methods and tools. Stephen Angudubo, an agricultural economist, and Winifred Candiru, a research assistant doing socio-economic research, will be working with the NextGen project to implement the protocol, monitor the trials, and evaluate the reported data.

Farmers participate in a group discussion held during the GREAT Gender Responsive Root, Tuber and Banana Breeding course in 2016-17

Farmers participate in a group discussion held during the GREAT Gender Responsive Root, Tuber and Banana Breeding course in 2016-17.

The trials will be conducted with the support of NextGen Cassava researchers who participated in the GREAT Gender-responsive Root, Tuber and Banana Breeding course held at Makerere University in 2016-17: Ritah Nanyonjo and Williams Esuma  from Uganda, and Andrew Smith Ikpan, Okoro Maria Justin, and Tessy Ugo Madu from Nigeria.

“The implementation will involve researchers, farmers and pre-identified agricultural extension workers as well as pre-trained village assistants to guide farmers in collecting data and monitoring farmer-managed fields,” Candiru explained. “Farmers will have the chance to be involved in various stages of the process, including preference analysis and sensory evaluation before and after harvest.”

Farmers selected for participation in the trials will include men and women as well as youth (18-35 years old) and adults (36-70 years old). Working with the researchers, evaluation criteria for the clones will be developed through group discussion. After evaluating how the clones perform in the field, researchers will then conduct a preference analysis and sensory evaluation of the varieties after they have undergone typical processing into the favored local consumable product known as “kwon.” Finally, the outcomes from the researchers’ evaluation and selection will be compared with farmer varietal preferences to determine similarities and/or differences. Ideally, this process will allow the identification of the clones that combine excellent suitability for processing and good agronomic characteristics in the field.

The aim of the participatory trial is to identify the best performing cassava clones suitable for adoption by the farming communities in the highlands of Uganda. Based on the outcomes of these trials, the top two clones will be distributed and officially released to farmers as the first highland cassava in Uganda. The others will be used for further breeding and development of better cassava clones.

“We see high potential that these new cassava varieties bred for the highlands will not only increase productivity, but do so equitably,” said Hale Tufan, project manager for GREAT. “Designing a PVS trial in a gender-responsive manner increases the likelihood that women, as well as men, will benefit equally from these new varieties.”

Tufan added that she hopes the outcome of these trials will set a precedent for gender responsiveness as a standard in research conducted at NaCCRI.

NextGen Cassava is a project funded by a $25 million, five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom.. Both projects are managed through International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University with partners in the U.S. and Africa.

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