Gender, caste, and heterogeneous farmer preferences for wheat varietal traits in rural India
The research on crop genetic enhancement has created a continuous flow of new, improved germplasm for the benefit of farmers and consumers of the Global South during and after the Green Revolution. Understanding farmers’ heterogeneous preferences for varietal traits in different market segments and incorporating the prominent ones in crop breeding programs are expected to facilitate a faster diffusion of these new varieties. Albeit knowing little about farmers’ trait preferences in South Asia, public-sector breeding programs prioritize yield enhancement and risk reduction over other varietal traits. Against this backdrop, we examined wheat farmers’ preferences for varietal traits in Central India, where the prevailing varietal turnover rate has been meager. We conducted a ranking exercise among 120 individuals, followed by a sex-disaggregated survey with a choice experiment among 420 farm-households in 2019. The lowest varietal turnover rate was observed for the socially marginalized castes. Most women respondents were not actively involved in making decisions related to wheat cultivation, including varietal selection. However, the results indicate that marginalized caste and women farmers are open to experimentation with new varieties, as shown by their positive willingness to pay for improved varietal traits. Across the gender and caste groups, grain quality attributes (especially chapati quality) were ranked high, above the yield-enhancing and risk-ameliorating traits. From the observed patterns, one could deduce that developing and disseminating improved varieties with better grain quality and targeting women and marginalized social groups in varietal dissemination programs could enhance farmer adoption of new, improved germplasm and wheat productivity in Central India.