Practical involvement of women in participatory variety selection, based on the specific cassava work they do, contributes to empowerment, access to new cassava varieties and learning as a citizen scientist.

Paulina Odey used to think that all cassava was pretty much the same. But the 40-year-old woman living in Nigeria’s Osun State is all ears when there is talk about improving the cassava, which she uses in making a dried gelatinised granular flour known as gari. Paulina has been involved for the past four years with three initiatives implemented in her community aimed at evaluating new cassava varieties as part of the Nextgen cassava and rtb foods projects. “My experience has enlightened me,” said Paulina. “I have now assessed three different cassava varieties provided to me as part of the project and can see how they perform differently.”

A team at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has been including women processors, like Paulina, in evaluation activities focusing on cassava production. The team has examined the various stages of processing freshly harvested cassava roots into widely and commonly consumed food products such as gari, eba and fufu/akpu. The women were provided with three varieties and then asked about their preferences.

Paulina Odey selling gari to a customer. Photo: Olamide Olaosebikan (IITA).

“I have learned so much more about cassava after participating in this program and already I can see the new cassava varieties will help my business,” said Paulina. One of Paulina’s major customers loved the gari processed from a new variety and later introduced her to more customers. “This gives me confidence that I can attract customers for my gari and expand my market.”

Paulina is seeing her position in the community grow as she becomes a partner with IITA in the project. That’s important to her as she is a non-indigene; she migrated to the community from southern Nigeria.  “People in my community and my husband now see me as a woman of prestige,” said Paulina.  “My participation in this project brings me recognition and confidence and now I have learned to grow cassava better and that means better gari.”