Wheat is increasingly becoming a strategic crop grown as a subsistence and cash crop in many dryland communities in Africa. In most communities, socio-cultural and economic factors often put women and youth at a disadvantaged position in rural households.

The ICARDA-led wheat component of the Support to Agricultural Research for the Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC) initiative, funded by the African Development Bank, is a multinational CGIAR project working in 12 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The project is prioritizing the needs and interests of women and youth in the wheat value chain by focusing on their roles in wheat production, value addition, and post-harvest activities, to both empower them and draw on their contributions in building prosperous communities. The initiative has set a goal of increasing annual household incomes by two-thirds.

The SARD-SC wheat initiative is striving to ensure that newly generated transformational knowledge has a positive and equitable impact on women, men and youth. Women are growing seeds for income generation and solving seed availability issues in their communities as individuals and as groups in Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria – the three hub countries for the project. The project specifically applies interventions to address value addition and training in reducing post-harvest losses from 30% to 15%.

According to project coordinator Solomon Assefa, the most notable feature of the project is its capitalizing on women’s innovations for market development. The SARD-SC wheat initiative is increasing the opportunities and capacities of women to participate in wheat value addition and processing by providing market-driven technologies, such as baking bread and cakes, and making pasta, to increase incomes and create new jobs. For example, in Nigeria, women are processing wheat into pasta and the project is facilitating the up-scaling of this innovation and creation of markets by providing machinery and training on pasta making.

Reversing gender imbalances requires interventions in the household, technical, services and marketing domains. As women are accessing services such as microcredit and technical training in seed production and value addition through the initiative, the men need to be sensitized to a new understanding of gender roles in the household. Researchers and staff are trained by the SARD-SC gender focal points to adopt simple gender-sensitive research steps that include organizing focus group discussions for women and men, and comparing results to design gender- and youth-specific interventions and approaches. In Nigeria, for example, at the request of women, threshing and milling machines were introduced in project sites and women were trained in post-harvest activities.

The SARD-SC initiative is producing gender-disaggregated data and information related to participatory varietal selection, income generation, and training, enabling gender-sensitive research and a new and transformational understanding of women and youth in agriculture for all stakeholders involved.

SARD-SC's gender strategy factors in the economic, institutional and cultural realities of rural women and helps to gain the buy-in of male relatives and community leaders to increase participation of women.

Dina Najjar, Social and Gender Scientist, ICARDA

The project trained 4783 women in 2015 in various activities – seed multiplication, variety selection, post-harvest handling, and value addition activities, such as baking, pasta-making, and machine operation.

Inclusive innovation platforms benefiting women and youth

“Previously, I used to get just 17 100-kilogram bags per hectare from my one-hectare wheat farm,” says Halima Rabi Aliu, a female wheat farmer from Kadawa, Kano, in Nigeria. “However, since I started using seeds from the Kadawa Research Station, I am now harvesting 24 bags per hectare, and this is a good return,” adds Halima.

Halima is one of the 750 farmers registered on the SARD-SC wheat innovation platform at Kadawa. The platform is managed by the Institute of Agricultural Research at the Ahmadu Bello University. Halima has been a wheat farmer for 10 years and is presently registered for seed multiplication. She previously used seeds from the local market until she attended demonstrations at the research institute. Halima has attended four training sessions and two exchange visits to other farmers through the innovation platform.

By growing seeds, Halima is contributing to future increased wheat yields for other farmers in the community.

At the research station, farmers witness practical demonstrations of the various wheat varieties and different agronomic tests. The regionally-based research stations are an important cogs in the SARD-SC wheat program's information platform delivery approach. The station in Kadawa works in close collaboration with other local actors in the wheat value chain including flour millers’ associations, market service providers, and public decision makers, in order to deliver agronomic packages and develop markets for the poor through the capacity building of farmers, men, women and youth on wheat value addition.