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By: By Eileen Nchanji, Gender Specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Kenya, and Siri Bella Ngoh, Gender Specialist at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) in Cameroon


Note: With Week 1 of the GREAT Theme 4 Gender-Responsive Plant Breeding Course currently underway in Kampala, we’re highlighting perspectives from participants as they experience the course for themselves. Stay tuned for additional blogs!

How great is GREAT
By Eileen Nchanji, Gender Specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Kenya, and GREAT Theme 4 Gender-Responsive Plant Breeding Course Participant

As a gender specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture/Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA/CIAT), with over thirty years of experience working in West, Southern, Eastern and Central Africa, I was not sure if attending the GREAT training was the right training for me. I had a lot of work on my table and wondered what value I would gain if I applied and was selected.

During a visit to Burundi, to conduct a gender training, two of the colleagues who immediately grasped my training mentioned that they had attended the GREAT training, and so understood the relevance of gender in their research. I was impressed, and so started reading more on the work GREAT was doing. Three months later, the breeder in Burundi indicated to me that he was attending the GREAT training with a socio-economist from his team. Then I told myself, if this breeder comes back “singing” gender, then I will apply for GREAT. After the GREAT training, I received a report from him on what he had learnt and was impressed, but I wanted to see the changes that will result from the knowledge he has gained. The breeder and socio-economist as per GREAT requirements carried out a study on “understanding the gender roles and the extent of women’s involvement in decision making of bio-fortified improved bean at the production level of the value chain.”

participants socialize during a break from the course

Participants discuss and get acquainted during a break in the GREAT Theme 4 Gender-Responsive Plant Beeding Course in Kampala

When I received the report and read it, two things immediately came to mind; the study used a gender lens, and analysis went beyond sex-disaggregation to look deeper at issues on decision making, and this work is now contributing to another project we are working on involving access, utilization and marketing of yellow beans.

Thus, I decided to apply for the GREAT training, and I also encouraged and budgeted for other colleagues from Kenya’s national agricultural institute, KALRO, to join me in experiencing this GREATNESS.
It has been a wonderful experience so far. My highlights have been listening to Dr Eva Weltzien-Rattunde’s talk on gender-responsive breeding; role-playing that showed women’s constraints; focus group discussions by Peace Musiimenta and Brenda Boonabaana; and talks on toxic masculinity by Amon. My happiest moment was when a colleague, who is a breeder, told me “Eileen, now I understand why sex-disaggregation is not enough.” Meeting new colleagues and expanding my network has been a plus. We’re only part way through the first week of GREAT, yet already I see myself as a GREAT Ambassador; I see not only an increase in gender-responsive research but institutional changes for women in the workplace. GREAT is beyond great, it is a place where we do not learn to read and write but learn, unlearn and relearn, as trainer Grace Bantebya implored us to do at the beginning of the course.

Gender-responsive breeding in common beans: my GREAT experience

By Siri Bella Ngoh, Gender Specialist, Cameroon, Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD)

As the gender focal person in Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Cameroon, I have been integrating gender in climate-smart technologies and nutrition in the past 15years. My main focus has been on disseminating micronutrient beans to men, women and youth through field days, accompanied with lectures on its importance in household nutrition and health. I have also been training farmer groups and the community on the importance of not only selling these beans as a result of its high price, but reserving some for consumption. I have interacted with varieties only when released, but never understood how these varieties came about. I had little interaction with any bean breeder, or much knowledge on the science of plant breeding, largely due to the absence exposure within in my national agricultural research institute, IRAD.

Being part of the GREAT team has provided me with the opportunity not only to interact with breeders, especially bean breeders, but also to understand the science of breeding through a gender lens. I was intrigued with Dr. Eva Weltzien’s experience on integrating gender into her sorghum breeding work in Mali. She explained clearly and in great detail the stages in which gender could be considered in the breeding cycle. For me, the highlights of her presentation were: the gender and sorghum breeding case study; demand-led breeding; ‘product profile plus;’ and the mandated involvement of gender and market experts in product profiling across the national agricultural institutes.

What has been even more unique about this GREAT experience are the diverse topics explored, such as masculinities, market segmentation, research methods and analysis, in addition to the science of gender. I liked the session on toxic masculinity – an issue which is rarely talked about but yet contributes to gender inequalities. The gender constraint and qualitative role plays were enriching and fun.

This training has sharpened my gender skills, and opened up new networks as I discuss and learn from other gender scientist. I have been able to improve my knowledge base through the exposure to new and recent literature as well as experiences from other colleagues. I have also sharpened my soft skills in data collection and strategic gender analysis. After my training, I intend to go back home and introduce training sessions on the need for gender-responsive research for development within the institutions and project’s that I am involved in. This training will improve my gender delivery approaches in (IRAD) and the Pan African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).