Links between gender and varietal selection: the case study in Orissa

In September 2022, one of India’s CROPS4HD partners, Bhittibhumi, carried out a Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) exercise in Orissa with the support and guidance of FiBL. The exercise involved farmers as key stakeholders to seek and determine the most preferred lines of green gram and sesame for further advancement. Discussions with the farmers (both genders) showed differences and some similarities in trait preferences and varietal choices.

Mentioned in the previous news (link), PVS is an important process to check, evaluate and popularise local seed varieties in the community. Farmers’ approval for a variety to be released is very critical. Breeders must involve all partners in the process, in order to breed common seed varieties preferred by all (men, women, youth, farmers, consumers, traders, and processors). Often, seed varieties are evaluated based on a bundle of traits: yield, time to maturity, pod filling, pod shattering, size, color, pest, disease, drought tolerance market demand, price, nutrition value, and health. During this exercise in Orisha, a correlation between gender and agroecology have been highlighted. The following are the main critical traits discussed of the different varieties: colour and size, yield, maturity period of variety and taste.

Here are some of the outcomes that were highlighted during this exercise regarding the Green Gram (Mung) variety. The interests in the yield and vigour of the plant are similar for male and female farmers. Interestingly, the differences noted could be linked with the role that men and women play in agriculture operations and also meeting their families’ needs. Also, women preferred medium and large-seeded varieties because it would reduce their time spent on threshing and picking from the soil – reducing drudgery and quickly filling the bag – marketing.  Furthermore, women were more concerned with the variety that takes lesser time in cultivating. The reason for preferring lesser day variety was to save time and resources such as soil moisture and water for another crop. Men, on the other hand, were more concerned about pests and diseases, which are on the increase due to climatic variability. 

It was understood from the community discussion that the choice of variety also has a gender dimension in terms of different agriculture operations carried out by women and men in the field. One of the critical aspects of working on farmers’ variety is to support the agroecology around the crop. In wider terms that includes self-dependence and ensuring food and nutrition security. Including women in such discussion brings out the element of challenges to climate change. Women’s role mostly focuses on ensuring the food security of families and cattle. Their preference shows factors that address their role and some important elements of agroecology.

As we know in India, most of the agricultural operations are carried out by women, but the stereotypical mentality of seeing them as labour rather than farmers is hindering the developement of their capacity and efficiency in performing their role. Their knowledge and experiences are mostly unrecognized by mainstreamed research practices. The process of a participatory way of conducting research by using methods like PVS with community participation creates an opportunity for women to share their knowledge, as well as their increasing concern over climate, challenges to agriculture, and an increase in their burden in carrying out different agriculture operations. Also, involving both women and men provides insights into which varieties are preferred and why. Therefore, it’s important to have a common discussion of men and women to discuss the diverse views and agree on the varieties which should be grown on their farms. It can also be seen as a learning and reflecting opportunity for the organization working in agriculture to optimise their present practices and way of promoting farming practices.