Preliminary results from a CIMMYT-led pilot study in 10 seed markets across eastern Kenya show that there is a significant difference in the way that men and women engage with improved maize seed markets. “In most major centers, you have at least twice as many men as women coming to buy seed,” said Vongai Kandiwa, CIMMYT gender and development specialist who designed and led the study. The patterns improve a bit when you move to centers that are closer to rural communities. “This tells us that to reach more women, it is important that seed outlets are closer to them in the remote areas.”
In the past, we have always known – or suspected – that compared with men, women are less likely to shop at agro-dealerships to buy seeds. But we have not carefully and adequately measured the size of this perceived gender gap in market participation, and how it varies across space. This study begins to shed some light in this important area of seed access and gender equity. After all, agrodealers are important links in the seed value chain. An agrodealership is the point at which farmers can source the seeds they know about, learn about newly released stress-tolerant maize varieties and perhaps purchase small seed packs for trial basis. This socioeconomics study augments household surveys that scientists undertake in diverse contexts to study different aspects of farming households. Typically, studies estimate levels of farmers’ market engagement by asking survey respondents about whether they planted improved seeds. Few surveys inquire about who purchased the seeds.
By contrast, Kandiwa and her team adopted a different approach – participant observation. Instead of relying on self-reported household–level data, the team spent weeks observing buyer behavior at selected maize seed retail outlets – without interviewing them. This approach enabled the researchers to document who comes to agro-dealers and when, what products they purchase, in what quantities and what topics they care about. Moreover, the approach taken by the researchers enabled them to ascertain whether there is a disconnect between what the farmers indicate when they are interviewed during household studies and observed characteristics and behavior at the retail seed market-farmer interface.
“Both men and women care about price,” said Kandiwa, indicating that there is no gender difference in regard to farmers’ concern about the cost of seed. “However, the research team observed more women asking about packaging in comparison to men.” Kandiwa also indicated that more men shared concerns about counterfeit products, while more women demonstrated interest in postharvest management, asking about pest control while buying seed.
The study was carried out under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings will help the project advise seed companies who are key partners in delivering drought-tolerant maize seed to ensure that they reach farmers. “It will also help seed companies understand that men and women are distinctive customers and create strategies the companies can employ to meet the demands of women farmers,” said Kandiwa.