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Archive for the ‘Plant breeding’ Category

Preview(opens in a new tab)Add titleGene editing poised to spark innovation in herbicide- and disease-resistant sugar cane

Gene editing poised to spark innovation in herbicide- and disease-resistant sugar cane

Julie Wurth | CABBI | July 22, 2021

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Credit: Fawakih
Credit: Fawakih

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Sugarcane is one of the most productive plants on Earth, providing 80 percent of the sugar and 30 percent of the bioethanol produced worldwide. Its size and efficient use of water and light give it tremendous potential for the production of renewable value-added bioproducts and biofuels.

But the highly complex sugarcane genome poses challenges for conventional breeding, requiring more than a decade of trials for the development of an improved cultivar.

Two recently published innovations by University of Florida researchers at the Department of Energy’s Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) demonstrated the first successful precision breeding of sugarcane by using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing — a far more targeted and efficient way to develop new varieties.

CRISPR/Cas9 allows scientists to introduce precision changes in almost any gene and, depending on the selected approach, to turn the gene off or replace it with a superior version. The latter is technically more challenging and has rarely been reported for crops so far.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

“Now we have very effective tools to modify sugarcane into a crop with higher productivity or improved sustainability,” [researcher Fredy] Altpeter said. “It’s important since sugarcane is the ideal crop to fuel the emerging bioeconomy.”

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Bt Cotton adoption in Punjab has resulted in net economic, environmental benefits: Study

Vikas VasudevaCHANDIGARH, JUNE 21, 2021 19:34 ISTUPDATED: JUNE 22, 2021 15:52 IST

Yields have stabilised after its commercialisation, says expert

Amid the perpetual debate surrounding Bt cotton’s positive and negative impacts, a recent study titled — ‘Long-term impact of Bt cotton: An empirical evidence from North India’ — has said its adoption in Punjab in the past over a decade has resulted in net economic and environmental benefits.

Also read: Comment | The flawed spin to India’s cotton story

The research was funded by the Agricultural Extension Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under extramural project “Impact evaluation of integrated pest management technologies”. The study was jointly done by the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Jammu (SKUAST) and the Noida-based Amity University, and has been recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production Elsevier.

“Since the commercialisation of Bt cotton, there has been reduction in insecticide use by volume and applications, decline in environmental and human health impact associated with insecticide use, more so with the reduction in the use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and reduction in the expenses associated with insecticide use. Also, cotton yields in the past 13 years have been stable, the only exception being 2015. Yet over the past 13 years, pesticide use has gradually increased in Bt hybrids and reduced in non-Bt varieties, primarily driven by the use of fungicide, which was not applied in cotton in 2003 and 2004.

“Akin to the discovery of synthetic pesticides in the 1940s, which was proclaimed as ‘silver bullet technology’ by entomologists, the complete reliance on Bt cotton without incorporating it into the integrated pest management (IPM) system led to outbreak of whitefly in northern India and pink bollworm in western India in 2015; thus, resistance to Bt cotton is yet to become a significant problem. Compatibility of Bt with IPM is not a given when we have weaker institutional setting with ad hoc IPM system and the contrarian view that Bt cotton has been a failure in India, in this case Punjab, lacks empirical evidence,” professor Rajinder Peshin of SKUAST told The Hindu.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has been commercially grown in India for the past 19 years. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the release of Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in 2002 in western and southern parts of the country. In Punjab, Bt cotton was released for cultivation in 2005. Before the release, it was adopted by 72% farmers on 22% of the cotton area. However, a lot of questions have been raised recently on its impact.

“To find out the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts of Bt cotton cultivation on cleaner production, we revisited cotton growers surveyed in 2003 and 2004 again in 2016-17. Before-after, with-without, and difference-in-differences [with and without sample attrition] within farm comparisons were analysed to find the impact of Bt cotton over time. Our results show that sucking insect pests have replaced bollworms as the key pests.

Decline in insecticide applications

“There has been a steep decline in insecticide applications to control bollworms, the target pest of Bt cotton, by 97%; however, this has been offset by an increase in the insecticide application by 154% to control sucking pests. Moreover, the increase in pesticide use was driven by the use of fungicides, which were not applied in cotton earlier, and increased use of herbicides.

“Our results show overall positive impact of Bt cotton on volume of insecticide active ingredients (a.i.) applied, insecticide applications, use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and resultant environmental impact of the field use of insecticides on cotton. Yields have stabilised after the commercialisation of Bt cotton,” said Mr. Peshin.


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May 24, 2021“Father of Hybrid Rice” Yuan Longping’s Legacy: An agricultural innovation that helps feed the world

“Father of Hybrid Rice” Yuan Longping’s Legacy: An agricultural innovation that helps feed the world

Rice is a staple food and provides 20% of the daily calorie needs of more than half of the population worldwide. With the looming increase in population projected to reach about 8.5 billion people by 2030, how can we feed the world sustainably?

In 1973, Dr. Yuan Longping successfully cultivated the first high-yielding hybrid rice strain after almost a decade of hybrid rice research. Since then, several varieties of hybrid rice have been developed and deployed to end hunger and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the world.

“If half of the rice-growing areas in the world are replaced with hybrid rice varieties with a 2 t/ha yield advantage, it is estimated that total global rice production would increase by another 150 million tons annually. This could feed 400‒500 million more people each year. This would truly be a significant contribution to ensure food security and peace all over the world,” writes Dr. Yuan in his Rice Today opinion piece,  Hybrid rice for global food security.

Among the numerous awards and recognitions that he received for this contribution to agriculture and food security, Dr. Yuan was awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2004, the foremost international award recognizing individuals who have increased the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. Dr. Yuan “discovered a genetic phenomenon in rice and then developed the technologies essential for breeding the first hybrid rice variety ever created.” He shared the recognition with African plant breeder, Dr. Monty Jones.

President emeritus of the World Food Prize and vice-chairman of the Yuan Longping International Rice Development Forum Kenneth M. Quinn said of Dr. Yuan, “Like [Norman] Borlaug, Professor Yuan was incredibly humble, never seeking fame or adulation, rather focused only on hard work and results that could help eradicate poverty and uplift people out of hunger. Professor Yuan, similarly, believed deeply in the power of science as the multiplier of the harvest.”

Most recently, Dr. Yuan worked with his team on a third-generation hybrid rice variety. Reports from late last year cite that this third-generation hybrid rice achieved a yield of 911.7 kg per mu (about 667 square meters) in an experiment in China’s Hunan Province.

“The adoption of agricultural innovations like the hybrid rice technology will help in bringing about rice self-sufficiency in rice-dependent countries,” IRRI Director General Jean Balié said. “Hybrid rice’s yield advantage is instrumental in feeding a growing population with fewer resources. We will be forever grateful for Dr. Yuan Longping’s dedication and hard work on hybrid rice research which paved the way for the development and deployment of several high-performing rice varieties.”

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Is genetically modified corn the answer to fall armyworm? 

ABC Rural / By Megan HughesPosted 3ddays ago

A close up of a caterpillar on a stalk of corn. It's clear the grub has done a lot of damage
Fall armyworm has been detected across the country from North Queensland to Western Australia and even Tasmania.(Supplied: DPIRD)

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  • It’s a tiny caterpillar that’s difficult to detect, but for more than a year it’s been having a massive impact on crops in Australia, especially corn. 

Key points:

  • Fall armyworm is causing damage to corn crops around Australia 
  • Farmers are asking whether genetically modified corn could help
  • The Maize Association says it will need whole-of-industry support before GM corn can be introduced  

Fall armyworm (FAW) has infiltrated six states and territories and is so hard to control farmers are whispering about a method that’s been off the table for almost two decades — genetically modified (GM) corn.

Maize Association of Australia chairman Stephen Wilson said questions were being raised about whether GM corn could manage the armyworm incursion.

“Anecdotally, I am hearing from the field farmers saying we need GM to help us control the insect,” he said. 

“It’s a major discussion point for the industry as a whole because for the last three decades we, as an industry, as the Maize Association, have been working uniformly to say we do not need GM in Australia.” 

Lessons from the US 

Since arriving in Australia in February 2020, fall armyworm has been detected in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and, most recently, in Tasmania. 

Fall armyworm is native to the United States, where it has devastated multiple agricultural crops, but growers there have different tools to fight it. 

Fall armyworm on corn plants
Fall armyworm outbreaks are contained by insecticide use and GM crops in the United States.(Supplied: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)

North Carolina State University professor and extension specialist Dr Dominic Reisig said in their industry, corn was genetically modified to produce insecticidal proteins that naturally occurred in a bacteria found in soil. It is known as BT corn.

Dr Reisig said while it was not specifically designed to treat FAW it had had an impact. 

“It was first commercially planted in 1996 but that particular crop that was planted did not control fall armyworm,” he said.

“So it wasn’t until different BT toxins were introduced that we really started to see fall armyworm control. 

“But because it’s a sporadic outbreak pest throughout the US it wasn’t like a huge, earth-shattering moment when we were able to control fall armyworm.” 

Are GMO crops the silver bullet? 

According to Dr Reisig, treating FAW across ag industries was a multi-pronged approach with insecticides and a GM crop. 

He said in corn the pest could infest a crop in different stages of its development. 

“Once it gets into the whirl it’s very difficult to control,” he said. 

“But the good thing is when it attacks in those (earlier) stages it’s not that damaging to yield — so the corn looks really bad but it usually pops out of it and it’s not a problem. 

“If fall armyworm attacks later in the season when maize has an ear, then it’s a problem. 

“Once it’s inside that ear you can’t control it and then it’s a really damaging pest in terms of yield and it’s really difficult to control with insecticides so BT (corn) is the way to go.”

He said insecticides were able to control the pest in other crops like soya beans or vegetables because the plants were structured differently.

Weighing up the losses 

Australia only grows three GM crops — cotton, safflower and canola. 

A sea of yellow flowers under a blue sky as the canola crop is in full bloom.
Canola is one of thee genetically modified crops in Australia.(Supplied: Riverine Plains Inc)

Corn has remained GM-free and, as a consequence, the industry has been able to access different markets including Japan and Korea. 

“End users such as snack food and cornflake breakfast cereal manufacturers have told us the whole time they do not want GM in their raw materials,” Mr Wilson said. 

“It would impact on both the export market and also on all the domestic markets — everything from dairy cows utilising the maize as grain or silage right through to beef cattle and right through to human consumption. 

“It’s a major, major, major impact that would need to be agreed to by all sectors of the industry.” 

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A person opens a corn's covering to check if it's ripe.
Australia has been able to access multiple international markets as the corn grown here is GM free.(Pexels: Frank Meriño)

He said any trial would be complicated.

“You have all the regulatory issues of actually bringing germplasm into the country, you have the quarantine issues of having the facilities that could handle the GM product, then you’ve got the issues of field testing,” he said. 

“It would be a long, drawn-out process and we’d have to consider the impact on the industry as a whole because it’s very hard, if not impossible, to have part-GM, part-non-GM. 

“It’s a very expensive process and it makes the non-GM corn being in the minority a very expensive product that people have to pay a premium for.” 

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said genetically modified maize seeds may only be imported into Australia under an import permit issued by the department, but that no applications had been made. 

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ToBRFV resistant tomatoes

In 2020, Enza Zaden announced the discovery of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) High Resistance gene, a complete solution for ToBRFV. Since the announcement, we’ve worked hard with resistant trials material achieving excellent results. “We see no symptoms at all in the plants, while the disease pressure is very high,” says Oscar Lara, Senior Tomato Product Specialist, about the first trials in Mexico.

No symptoms at all
At the Enza Zaden trial location in Mexico, the high resistance (HR) varieties are placed next to susceptible ones. There you can clearly see the difference. The susceptible tomato varieties show different foliage disorders such as a yellow mosaic pattern. The affected plants also stay behind in growth.

“You can clearly see how well our high resistant varieties withstand ToBRFV,” says Oscar Lara. “In comparison to the plants of susceptible varieties, the resistant ones look very healthy with a dark green colour, show no symptoms at all and have good growth. All our trialled HR tomato varieties do not show any symptoms at all.”

Exciting news
Enza Zaden is running parallel tests in different countries with varieties with high resistance to ToBRFV. “Our trials in Europe, North America, and the Middle East show that we have qualitatively good tomato cultivars with a confirmed high resistance level,” says Kees Könst, Crop research Director. “This is exciting news for all parties involved in the tomato growing industry. We know there is a lot at stake for our customers, so we continue to work hard to make HR varieties available for the market. We expect to have these ready in the coming years,” says Könst.

High performing and high resistance
Enza Zaden has a long history in breeding tomatoes. “We have an extended range of tomato varieties, from large beef to tasty vine tomatoes (truss tomatoes) and from baby plum tomatoes to pink varieties for the Asian market. This basis of high performing varieties combined with the gene we discovered, will enable us to deliver the high performing varieties with high resistance to ToBRFV.”

Why is a high resistance level so critical?
“With an intermediate resistance (IR) level, the virus propagation is delayed but ToBRFV can still enter tomato plants – plants that may eventually show symptoms,” says Könst. “With a high resistance level, plants and fruits do not host the virus at all. This means they won’t be a source for spreading the virus and that the detection test will come back negative. Growing a variety with high resistance can be the difference between making a profit or losing the crop.”For more information Enza Zadeninfo@enzazaden.com
www.enzazaden.com

Publication date: Tue 13 Apr 2021

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JULY 20, 2020

Returning to farming’s roots in the battle against the ‘billion-dollar beetle’

by University of Arizona

Returning to farming's roots in the battle against the 'billion-dollar beetle'
Western corn rootworm larvae can devour the tips of corn roots, robbing the plants of nutrients and making them susceptible to falling over. Credit: Cyril Hertz, Lingfei Hu and Matthias Erb, University of Bern, Switzerland

Nicknamed the “billion-dollar beetle” for its enormous economic costs to growers in the United States each year, the western corn rootworm is one of the most devastating pests farmers face.https://3777ec3032f89ac36b1a5fe5c7568749.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“They are quite insidious. They’re in the soil gnawing away at the roots and cutting off the terminal ends of the roots—the lifeblood of corn,” said Bruce Tabashnik, Regents Professor and head of the University of Arizona Department of Entomology. “And if they’re damaging enough, the corn plants actually fall over.”

Genetically modified crops have been an important tool in the battle against pests such as these, increasing yields while reducing farmers’ reliance on broad-spectrum insecticides that can be harmful to people and the environment.

Corn was genetically engineered to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that kill rootworm larvae but are not toxic to humans or wildlife. The technology was introduced in 2003 and has helped keep the corn rootworm at bay, but the pest has begun to evolve resistance.

“So, now the efficacy of this technology is threatened and if farmers were to lose Bt corn, the western corn rootworm would become a billion-dollar pest again,” said Yves Carrière, a professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Crop Rotation in Mitigating Pest Resistance

Carrière is lead author of a study to be published in PNAS that evaluated the effectiveness of crop rotation in mitigating the damage caused by resistant corn rootworms. Tabashnik and colleagues from North Carolina State University, the University of California-Davis, McGill University and Stockholm University coauthored the study.

Crop rotation, the practice of growing different crops in the same field across seasons, has long been used for pest control. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated crop rotation as a primary means of reducing the damage to Bt corn fields caused by resistant corn rootworms, but there have been limited scientific studies to support the efficacy of this tactic.https://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/ads?client=ca-pub-0536483524803400&output=html&h=280&slotname=5350699939&adk=2265749427&adf=625945176&w=750&fwrn=4&fwrnh=100&lmt=1595996918&rafmt=1&psa=1&guci=2.2.0.0.2.2.0.0&format=750×280&url=https%3A%2F%2Fphys.org%2Fnews%2F2020-07-farming-roots-billion-dollar-beetle.html&flash=0&fwr=0&rpe=1&resp_fmts=3&wgl=1&dt=1595996918602&bpp=11&bdt=88&idt=147&shv=r20200727&cbv=r20190131&ptt=9&saldr=aa&abxe=1&cookie=ID%3Dfd49ee1f356c7aad-2230268791c20026%3AT%3D1595996908%3AS%3DALNI_MZ__AIkhsEMsw1AjrlZUCXlh_wvFw&correlator=2622896222429&frm=20&pv=2&ga_vid=683244895.1595996911&ga_sid=1595996919&ga_hid=1573871060&ga_fc=0&iag=0&icsg=2271232&dssz=26&mdo=0&mso=0&u_tz=-300&u_his=2&u_java=0&u_h=1080&u_w=1920&u_ah=1040&u_aw=1920&u_cd=24&u_nplug=3&u_nmime=4&adx=447&ady=2184&biw=1903&bih=969&scr_x=0&scr_y=0&oid=3&pvsid=1003068873479674&pem=0&rx=0&eae=0&fc=896&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1920%2C0%2C1920%2C1040%2C1920%2C969&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7CpeEbr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=8320&bc=31&ifi=1&uci=a!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=7ptrOeJu1R&p=https%3A//phys.org&dtd=154

Carrière and his team rigorously tested this approach by analyzing six years of field data from 25 crop reporting districts in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota—three states facing some of the most severe rootworm damage to Bt cornfields.

The results show that rotation works. By cycling different types of Bt corn and rotating corn with other crops, farmers greatly reduced rootworm damage.

Most notably, crop rotation was effective even in areas of Illinois and Iowa where rootworm resistance to corn and soybean rotation had been previously reported.

According to the study, crop rotation provides several other benefits as well, including increased yield, reductions in fertilizer use and better pest control across the board.

“Farmers have to diversify their Bt crops and rotate,” Carrière said. “Diversify the landscape and the use of pest control methods. No one technology is the silver bullet.”

Returning to farming's roots in the battle against the 'billion-dollar beetle'
Western corn rootworm beetle on corn tassels. Credit: Joseph L. Spencer, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A Multipronged Approach

Tabashnik relates the research back to UArizona’s work with the pink bollworm, in which researchers spearheaded a management program to suppress the pink bollworm’s resistance to Bt cotton.

“The key to eradicating pink bollworm in the U.S. was integrating Bt cotton with other control tactics,” Tabashnik said. “We succeeded, whereas this voracious invasive pest rapidly evolved resistance to Bt cotton in India, where the genetically engineered crop was used alone.”

In collaboration with cotton growers, UArizona scientists sustained the efficacy of Bt cotton against pink bollworm by establishing the “refuge strategy,” in which non-Bt crops are planted near Bt crops to allow survival of susceptible insects. The strategy has become the primary approach used worldwide to delay the adaptation of insect pests to genetically engineered crops.

Although farmers have used refuges to thwart the rootworm’s resistance to Bt corn, this strategy alone has proven insufficient against the pest.

“During the last decade, we have learned that refuges are often not sufficient to delay resistance in pests like the corn rootworm,” Carrière said. “It would be wise to diversify management tactics before such pests evolve resistance. This approach, called integrated pest management, is vital for preserving the benefits of biotechnology.”

Returning to Agricultural Roots

In many ways, the study reaffirms traditional agricultural knowledge.

“People have been rotating crops since the dawn of farming. The new agricultural technology we develop can only be sustained if we put it in the context of things we’ve known for thousands of years,” Tabashnik said. “If we just put it out there and forget what we’ve learned in terms of rotating crops, it won’t last.”

The authors emphasize that increasing crop rotation is essential for sustaining the economic and environmental benefits provided by rootworm-active Bt corn. During the six years of the study, the average percentage of corn rotated to other crops per state ranged from about 55-75%.

“This is one of the most important applications of Bt crops in the United States,” Carrière said. “If we lose this technology and we start using soil insecticides again, it’s going to have a big negative environmental impact.”


Explore furtherScientists offer recommendations for delaying resistance to Bt corn in western corn rootworm


More information: Crop rotation mitigates impacts of corn rootworm resistance to transgenic Bt corn, PNAS (2020). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2003604117Journal information:Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesProvided by University of Arizona

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CGIAR – Gender and breeding intiatives
http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/gender-breeding-initiative/news-and-opinions/news/plant-breeders-could-let-women-farmers-guide-them/

Plant breeders produce new varieties for their customers: farmers. To predict what kinds of new varieties are likely to offer significant benefits to farmers, breeders may turn to their customers to evaluate which characteristics might make a new variety more acceptable. A comprehensive review of many such evaluations suggests that if breeders were to pay more attention to what women need, it could increase the usefulness of new varieties in many ways.

[Gender and Farmer Preferences for Varietal Traits: Evidence and Issues for Crop Improvement], published in Plant Breeding Reviews, came out of a workshop of the Gender and Breeding Initiative, led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). The authors scanned the published literature looking for research that addressed plant breeding, seed selection, trait evaluation and similar ideas and that specifically reported data from women about their varietal preferences. The paper describes their analysis.

Although 39 papers met the criteria, the authors say that none of them focused on gender differences for trait preferences as a primary objective. Women evaluated traits and varieties, but understanding their preferences was never the primary reason for any of the studies. The studies covered a wide variety of crops, countries and agricultural production and food systems. Despite the high diversity and specificity of these cases, the authors identified some trends and patterns.

Security versus productivity

Women and men sometimes have diametrically opposed views about what matters in a plant variety. Women mention traits related to their family’s food security, such as earliness, multiple harvests and pest and disease resistance, more often than men. Men, by contrast, mention varieties with market appeal — high yields, low labor requirements — more often than women.

“Women preferred traits conferring stability or the capacity to produce under stressful conditions,” said Jacqueline Ashby, one of the study authors and Senior Advisor on Gender Research at the CGIAR System Office at the time of the research.

There are differences after the harvest too. Women are more likely to be concerned about traits such as ease of processing and lower processing losses or medicinal properties, reflecting their concern with food quality, while men focus on storage life and marketability.

“Women tend to be responsible for food preparation, and thus have more detailed knowledge about what a good variety should bring to the table,” said Eva Weltzien of the University of Wisconsin and another of the paper’s authors. “If women cannot prepare more food from grain produced by a higher yielding variety, because losses during food preparation are higher than the yield advantages from the new variety, they will not adopt the new variety and will discourage the men from doing so.”

Women are responsible for ensuring that their family is well-fed, and that influences their preferences. In Ethiopia, for example, women say that they are the ones who have to maintain early and drought-tolerant sorghum varieties because “they are the first to hear a starving child cry”.

Same crop, different needs

Many crops are grown by women and men, albeit under different circumstances and sometimes with diverse goals. Very often, women prefer traits that will deliver an assured harvest from the poorer conditions of their plots. In West Africa, the fields on which women grow sorghum are low in fertility because they are allocated those fields at the end of the rotation and they do not have access to manure. They prefer early and tall sorghum varieties, which make the most of poor conditions.

This example, and several others, show that, as the authors note, “even within the same agro‐ecology and village, women and men may be cultivating the same crop under contrasting conditions and thus will have different trait preferences”.

Women tend to value characteristics of crop varieties differently from men when they have different roles and responsibilities during the crop production cycle. For example, when women are primarily responsible for weeding, harvesting or threshing, they will appreciate variety traits that reduce weeding and their workload.

It is also common that women use specific parts of plants that men are less interested in, and ignoring their preferences can block the uptake of an otherwise better variety. In Ethiopia, for example, women objected to more productive short-strawed sorghum varieties partly because they would increase their work, but also because they would reduce the income women earn by selling the sorghum stalks as fuel.

Let women decide

Some crops are seen as “women’s crops,” among them groundnut and Bambara groundnut in West Africa, finger millet in East Africa and traditional vegetables across Africa and Asia. The literature contained no research on gendered trait preferences for these women’s crops which, the authors note, “warrants further research”.

“In fact,” said Jacqueline Ashby, “the idea that some crops are ‘women’s crops’ is questionable. More to the point, whenever women grow any crop for home consumption using rudimentary technology, their opinions about what would improve the crop have been largely ignored by modern breeding.”

GBI and the Excellence in Breeding CGIAR platform have already teamed up to pilot a more systematic approach to ensuring that women’s trait preferences are included in the product profiles that guide the work of plant breeders.

Should the aim be to produce separate varieties for women and men? Probably not.

“It is costly and difficult to develop new varieties,” Eva Weltzien explained. “In most cases it will be better to combine the traits that women and men prefer. For example, there may be no real yield disadvantage for taller sorghum plants.”

Better, Weltzien said, to ensure that women’s preferences are being met. In Ethiopia, a new sorghum variety that is tall and high-yielding improves the likelihood that the improved variety might be adopted, because women and men will want it.


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