Why do women and men innovate in different ways?

Why do women and men innovate in different ways?

Researchers need to understand why women and men innovate in different ways. New insights from Nigeria show how gendered constraints can condition women’s and men’s adoption of biofortified cassava, why adoption differs between regions, and how to address the unique challenges that women face.

Why do women and men innovate in different ways? And why does this pattern change from one region to another? The answers to these questions can help researchers to address the different constraints that women and men face in agricultural production.

Cassava breeders in Nigeria wondered why women were adopting biofortified cassava in Benue State, while across the country in Oyo State, it was not the women, but the men who were adopting biofortified cassava. A study team interviewed groups of farmers and walked transects through the farm landscape to understand the motivations behind growing biofortified cassava.

In 2011, biofortified cassava varieties were introduced to Nigerian farmers, who have had time to get to know the new cultivars, which have yellow roots and are rich in vitamin A. Severe vitamin A deficiency is common in Nigeria and contributes to blindness and other health problems.

Across Nigeria, women process cassava, much of which is turned into gari, a coarse-grained flour. Unlike fresh cassava roots, gari can be stored, is easy to transport and can be mixed with boiling water to create a paste to enjoy with sauce and meat, fish or cheese. Gari is a versatile foodstuff in high demand in Nigerian cities.

While gari is easy to eat, it is tedious and time-consuming to make, and almost all this difficult work is left to women, in cottage industries. Women have to peel the roots with a knife, take them to a neighbor who grinds them in a small machine, then ferment the mash, press it and fry it on a large steel pan on a red-hot fire.

Women are willing to do this exerting work, in part because it allows them to earn money independently, but they would like it to be easier and safer, says gender researcher Olamide Olaosebikan.
Farmer showing high-yield cassava from his newly-purchased seed. (IITA)

In Benue State, women grow biofortified cassava because they have benefitted from awareness campaigns that stressed the health advantages of the new varieties. Plus, the yellow roots make yellow gari, preferred by consumers in Benue. In the past, the women processors had to add costly palm oil to the white cassava mash to make the gari yellow. Now they use less palm oil, or none at all. Since the men in Benue don’t fry gari, they are less interested in yellow cassava.

In Oyo State, the preferences of male and female farmers are the opposite of their counterparts in Benue. In Oyo, consumers prefer a white, sour gari, so women who make it prefer white roots. In Oyo, since men rarely make gari, they prefer to sell the roots fresh to gari processing centers within Oyo and Ogun States. From Oyo, yellow gari can be trucked to the mega-city of Lagos, where there is niche demand for it in various restaurants and homes.

To benefit women and men fairly, new technologies must take their unique preferences into account. But even for a specific example like new cassava varieties, men and women may have different demands in different regions. Understanding why preferences vary by place and by gender helps researchers to create varieties and technologies that equitably benefit both men and women. The experience with yellow cassava provides valuable insights that can be used by other root, tuber and banana crop scientists to generate more gender-responsive innovations.

Bridget, village seed entrepreneur selling her cassava stems. Benue, Nigeria. G. Thiele (RTB)