Beating Bean Bruchids in Southern Africa – Using Gender Responsive Breeding to Empower Women

Article about "Beating Bean Bruchids in Southern Africa – Using Gender Responsive Breeding to Empower Women."

Bruchid resistant bean variety surrounded by susceptible bean lines showing bruchid damage.

Beating Bean Bruchids in Southern Africa – Using Gender Responsive Breeding to Empower Women


Common beans contribute to productive food systems and healthy diets of the poor in both Eastern and Southern Africa (Katungi et al. 2009:1).  Rural households consume much of their own bean production, with women providing the bulk of the labor.  Yet as bean markets develop throughout the region, these same women often miss out on gaining access to these emerging markets and rarely receive the economic benefits of them. 


The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legume Systems Research managed by Michigan State University seeks to support projects that use a systems approach to identify what, when, and where technologies can best be inserted along the value chain for the greatest impact. One Legume Systems Innovation Lab project has further expanded this approach and seeks to understand the role of gender perspectives in common bean new varietal activities to strengthen gender responsive breeding. 


The project, Genetic Improvement of Dry Beans for Bruchid Resistance for Southern Africa, is led by Dr. Juan Osorno at North Dakota State University (NDSU). One especially daunting challenge to putting beans on the table, let alone bringing them to market, involves the voracious bean weevil, a.k.a bruchids. This weevil’s larvae can burrow through the household’s stored beans, thereby damaging bean quality and quantity, diminishing household food supply, and reducing potential revenue at heartbreaking speed. Therefore, the project is working with researchers in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi to bring weevil-resistant common bean varieties to local farmers. 



Figure 1. Bruchid Resistant Bean Team



Kelvin Kamfwa, Co-PI, University of Zambia

Crisanty Chama, Gender Advisor, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI)



Virginia Chisale, Co-PI, Department of Agricultural Research & Technical Services (DARS)

Hilda Kabuli, Gender Advisor, DARS



Celestina Jochua, Co-PI, Investigação Agraria de Mozambique (IIAM)

Maria da Luz Quinhentos, Gender Advisor, IIAM


United States

Juan M. Osorno, PI, North Dakota State University

Phil McClean, Co-PI, North Dakota State University

Carlos Urrea, Co-PI, University of Nebraska

Krista Isaacs, Gender Responsive Breeding Researcher & Coach, Michigan State University (MSU)

Andrea Allen, Gender Advisor, MSU

During the process of variety development, some anecdotal information about gender product/variety preferences is collected and acknowledged by breeders and agronomists; however, in most cases, this information does not contribute significantly to the decision-making process that leads to releasing a new variety.  In response, the Legume Systems Innovation Lab has funded a collaborative award through the NDSU project entitled, Strategic Collaborations: Implementing a Gender-Responsive Genetic Improvement Program for Bruchid Resistant Dry Beans in Southern Africa. This funding will expand the multinational team of researchers to include both local and US gender specialists (Figure 1) and will provide research-based evidence on the role of women in the bean value chain.  


“In our product profiling of the varieties we are developing we have relied on anecdotal evidence on what women would like to see in a bean variety. Through this additional funding we have an opportunity as breeders in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to develop research-based evidence on what women would like to see in the product and also how to best interface with women at various stages of variety development,” explains Dr. Kelvin Kamfwa, University of Zambia bean breeder and Principal Investigator of the collaborative project. “My expectation is that this would likely enhance variety adoption especially by women.”


This new award will allow a deeper dive into the details of participatory processes and producer preferences within each country, including application of the new gender responsive (G+) tools recently pilot tested by the CGIAR Gender Breeding Initiative (Orr et al. 2021; Ashby and Polar 2021). The CGIAR Gender Breeding Initiative brings together plant and animal breeders and social scientists to develop a strategy for gender-responsive breeding with supporting methods, tools and practices. As a result, researchers will be able to more effectively define product profiles and customer segments and better understand gender differentiated constraints, opportunities, and preferences throughout the breeding program. Of particular interest will be learning why, after initially balanced participation, women’s involvement has generally decreased over time as a breeding initiative nears variety release and product multiplication stages.


The new activities under this award will set the foundation for continued enhancement of the breeding program at each participating institution through 1) the increased capacity of participating researchers; 2) documentation of the capacity building and research process and outcomes in a case study; 3) generation of lessons learned and associated guidance for further institutionalizing these processes in the years ahead. Ultimately, research findings will contribute to more effective achievement of the overall breeding programs’ end goal: the increased food security and nutrition through adoption of bruchid resistant common bean varieties available and utilized by women, men, young producers and other value chain actors.




Ashby, J.A. and Polar, V. (2021). User guide to the G+ product profile query tool (G+PP). CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, User Guide 2021-2. International Potato Center: Lima, Peru.


Orr, A., Polar, V. and Ashby, J.A. (2021). User Guide to the G+ Customer Profile Tool (G+ CP). CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, User Guide 2021-1. International Potato Center: Lima, Peru.

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