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Gender dynamics in seed systems

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Seed quality determines the yield potential and thus profitability of the entire farming effort. All conditions being optimal, when the seed used is not of good genetic or physical quality, yields will be sub-optimal. As a result, access to high quality seed is a major concern for all farmers, but an implicit assumption in many seed systems is that all farmers have the same seed needs and preferences, and the same access to seeds. This is not the case.

Different farmers – women and men of different social categories (age, ethnicity, socio-economic standing etc.) – have different demands for seed, and seed production and marketing systems for high-quality seeds do not work equally well for each crop and every seed user. This topic therefore looks at gender aspects of access to high-quality non-hybrid seeds and the impacts of seed systems development on the reach, benefit and empowerment of women smallholders in the global South.

The topic builds on a unique 3-year collaborative research effort between different international agricultural research centers, documenting the sustainability and inclusivity of innovative business models for seed distribution.

The study digs deeper into key themes, including: changing gender roles as systems for seed production and distribution commercialize and specialize, along with the implications for inclusion/equity; gendered dimensions of seed information, preferences, seed sourcing and seed use for non-hybrids; the dynamics of moral economy in access to quality seed and sustainability and how this intersects with profit incentives and sustainability; and, business models that reach, benefit and empower the diversity of farmers engaging in smallholder production, including women.

Since intersectionality can play an important role, the project intersects gender with other social markers such as age, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status.

Action learning questions

The main question addressed through this project is: What sustainable business models for seed distribution reach the diversity of farmers engaging in smallholder production (including both women and men of different social categories)?

Different sub-questions are:

  1. How does commercialisation and specialisation of seed production affect inclusive access to seed? To what extent does this depend on the types of products and services provided through seed systems?
  2. Under which conditions does promoting female entrepreneurship in seed systems improve the (i) reach, (ii) benefit and (iii) empowerment of seed systems interventions for different types of women farmers?
  3. What social dynamics and local gender norms and roles support, or can be harnessed to support, access to quality seeds and sustainability?
  4. What are the impacts of promoting female entrepreneurship in seed production, marketing or distribution on local gender norms in seed systems?


Outcome 1: Better understanding of gender dynamics in seed systems

Outcome 2: Integration of gender lens into seed sector development initiatives

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