• First Study Shows Eating High-Iron Beans Improves Memory and Attention Span in Female University Students in Rwanda

    by Georgina Smith | Nov 22, 2017 Eating beans bred to contain higher iron can boost memory and attention span in female university students in Rwanda, the study shows. Policy…

    Continue reading
  • The road out of poverty depends on feeding our children nutritious food first

    by Mercy Lungaho At the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue this week, October 18-20, Dr. Mercy Lung’aho says feeding our youth more nutritious food is critical for a prosperous Africa. Her opinion piece was first published by Inter Press Service News Agency.  One drizzly morning in some lush green tea plantations in Rwanda, I was on my way to visit a local community, to assess nutrition indicators among women and children. We stopped in a green blanket of tea fields and spoke to one young tea picker, I’ll call her Mary, who had a baby strapped to her back. What I remember distinctly is that while her baby was probably the same age as my young son at home, he was about half the size. We chatted briefly about her job. Surrounded by the tea leaves, she said she was curious about how they tasted. She had never tasted tea. Later that day, we got the tea pickers together for a discussion. I asked them how often they ate meat. There was a ripple of laughter through the group. “Christmas Day,” they all said in unison. When I asked the group what they would do with every extra dollar saved, they did not tell me they would buy better food. Instead, they all agreed: “We would buy shoes”. Waking up at 4am to walk to the tea farm would be more comfortable in good shoes. What I understood more fully after this meeting was what I had already suspected: that nutrition had taken a back-seat in this farming community. We have collected evidence which shows that eating specially-bred, high-iron beans twice-a-day for just four-and-a-half months can reduce iron deficiency and actually reverse anemia in young women in Rwanda. The nutrition evidence we collected that day showed that anemia was prevalent. Like the small baby on her back, Mary was malnourished. So the cycle of malnutrition continues. Agriculture has a strange way of leaving the vulnerable behind, and this is what we must stop. The nutritional magic of beans At the Pan African Bean Research Alliance in collaboration with HarvestPlus, we have collected evidence which shows that eating specially-bred, high-iron beans twice-a-day for just four-and-a-half months can reduce iron deficiency and actually reverse anemia in young women in Rwanda. Our research, published in The Journal of Nutrition, was the first of its kind to show that eating “biofortified” beans, bred to contain more iron, can have a significant impact on iron levels in the blood and improve brain function. Our results were tremendously exciting: they show for the first time that these beans are an excellent vehicle for delivering long-term, low-cost major health solutions – with profound implications for global nutrition, agriculture and public health policy. Our research further shows that, fast-tracking nutrition in mothers before they even become pregnant is essential if we want to tackle malnutrition and put a stop to the vicious cycle of poverty and economic stagnation that poor diets perpetuate. Adolescent nutrition before pregnancy has a bigger impact on stunting in children than we thought. We need to target undernourished women like Mary with nutritious food – well before they are pregnant. Tackling malnutrition before it strikes Instead of focusing on preventing malnutrition, we are too busy responding to food crises. We are fighting fires, instead of making sure they don’t happen in the first place. This is a crisis, and we must treat it like one. That is why we are spearheading the development of a Nutrition Early Warning System, or NEWS. It will take advantage of the latest advances in “machine learning” to create a powerful tool that can process, track and monitor a constant flow of data relevant to food and nutrition – alerting decision makers well before malnutrition becomes apparent. We are currently working on a prototype of NEWS, which will initially focus on boosting nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, eventually targeting vulnerable populations globally.  It will analyze the nutritional status of populations in select countries in sub-Saharan Africa to find options for successful interventions. I cannot look the other way while women and children are dying of anemia and stunting on our watch. I’m positive that we can fix it. As I join other food security experts at the Borlaug Dialogue this week – I will be sharing these lessons, as evidence that investing in agriculture can create vibrant rural areas that provide a road out of poverty. A pathway towards employment, wealth creation, and economic growth that includes young people. But unless we focus on getting our young people a more nutritious diet, we will continue to fail millions like Mary – and her baby – before they have even had a chance to make a start in life. Report: Using Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to tackle Africa’s malnutrition crisis. Study: Showing iron-biofortified beans linked with improved memory and attention span  

    Continue reading
  • Transforming Landscape and Doubling Incomes

    Farmers actually wanted to own the new improved bean varieties; to be part of the success in seeing them spreading across the landscape. Gutsa Freeman, Principal Research Economist at the Harare Research Station. In Zimbabwe, nutritional deficiencies and chronic malnutrition persist in some areas. Yet while beans have the potential to diversify diets and boost nutrition, in areas like Manicaland province, farmers either do not produce common beans, or producing very little, and are skeptical about new varieties.  The new common bean variety, NUA45, released in 2010 by the Crop Breeding Institute of the Department of Research and Specialist Services in Zimbabwe, was not spared by the adoption challenges. The NUA45 bean, despite being rich in proteins, minerals and fiber, was released into the community and yet farmers were reluctant to take it up. To solve the impasse, the CIAT-PABRA Bean Production Support Initiative, supported the CIAT-PABRA Bean Production Support Initiative, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and in partnership with the Department of Research and Specialist Services, launched a well-coordinated forum, bringing bean farmers and all stakeholders along the value chain, to discuss strategic actions for enhancing uptake of the bean.  The approach, known as the Innovation Platform for Technology Adoption, led to a remarkable transformation in the attitudes of the farmers participating in the forum. Since 2010, the number of farmers growing the beans within a pilot area has increased from 11 to 79 percent. Yields have doubled, from 0.9 to 1.8 tons per hectare. Despite drought, which has severely affected yields, returns from NUA45 bean sales per farmer have risen from an average of US$90 to US$252. We now develop new varieties together with the farmers.  The new approach allows us to hear the voices of the people who will grow and earn an income from the beans. Farmers need to profit from their hard work, and with this new approach, we are working together to find varieties that are high yielding, high in nutritious qualities, and earn farmers a higher income too.  Gutsa Freeman, Principal Research Economist at the Harare Research Station.

    Continue reading
  • Village of Nutrition

    The “Village of Nutrition” is an initiative in Madagascar by PABRA and local partners to fight malnutrition. The initiative has two objectives: first, to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable groups, with a focus on pregnant women and nursing mothers; children under five years of age; and school children or unschooled children between six and 14 years of age. Second, to improve household food security in Masindray Village.  Masindray village, located 19 kilometers from the capital Antananarivo, was selected by partners as a vulnerable site, where 95 percent of the community are farmers and chronic malnutrition affects half of the population.   To tackle malnutrition, activities included culinary demonstrations and the planting vegetable gardens in community centers and schools. A focus on school nutrition included bean based porridge in school feeding programs, among other activities. Between January and June 2016, the prevalence underweight in children fell by five percent. From this experience, it is clear that in low income countries, the health and agricultural sectors must join forces and promote initiatives together to fight malnutrition.

    Continue reading
  • Derese Eshete, Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, Ethiopia

    As a senior researcher, Derese Eshete has spent his career with one goal in mind: to improve the living conditions of the farmers he believes he is working for. Having worked on many crops previously, including the country’s “super-grain” teff, he has settled on beans for now. At his desk, looking out onto several fields of the rural Arsi-Negele sub-station in southeast Ethiopia, his dedication is obvious, as he describes the painstaking efforts he and his team go through, to test, evaluate and analyze bean seeds to ensure they help smallholder farmers improve their lives. “As I’m an Ethiopian, I like our farmers to have a very nice income – and they are eager to plant the white pea beans if they can get seed,” he explains. That, in fact, is the major challenge. While local bean varieties are in large supply, improved beans which can deliver higher yields, while being resilient to increasing swathes of pests and diseases and drought – especially with the onset of climate change – are harder to come by.  Walking through the rows of different bean varieties at the research station, Eshete makes notes on a large clipboard detailing his latest observations, for example, the effects of recent weather, or damage caused by pests or diseases. Eshete’s grandson runs behind his white lab coat, watching him work. “We are selecting varieties which resist disease, those which are early maturing – the ones which perform better,” he explains. After that, we have state farms or seed growers here in Ethiopia. These growers can multiply the beans in a huge area – then they will distribute to our farmers. The beans will undergo more rigorous tests for drought resilience, disease resistance and canning quality, in the local context. The best varieties are whittled down over years. This process of improving, multiplying and disseminating beans is part of a seed system delivering improved beans to farmers on a much larger scale than has been possible in the past. Part of this success is due to relationships built over decades between researchers, private sector business and other partners – including farmers, he says.

    Continue reading
  • Business Unusual

    I’ve already seen how small changes in eating habits can be life-changing. I’m passionate about working in nutrition. I do what I do because I know how it feels when everybody looks the other way. I was a “preemie” – a premature baby. Weighing a mere 1.08 kg and anaemic, the doctors gave me 72 hours to live. But I’m still here; against all the odds I survived,and now I want to be part of the solution. As a nutritionist, I cannot look the other way while women and children are dying ofanaemia and malnutrition on our watch. Worldwide, malnutrition is responsible for almost half of the deaths of children under the age of five. Some 90 percent of thoseoccur in 34 countries; 22 of which are in Africa. Although malnutrition has multiple causes, I strongly believe the root of theproblem in Africa is due to dysfunctional food systems that fail to provide the right nutrients in the right quantities in orderfor people of all ages to thrive. This has to change. Fortunately, nutrition has become accepted as a global priority – it even has its own Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). But if we’re going to meet SDG3 – for good health and well being – we’re going to need less business-as-usual, and more unusual business. First, we need to radically rethink the concept of food security, and focus on nutrition security as well. Having enoughcalories is not enough – we need better food production and distribution systems that ensure everyone has equal access tosafe, diverse, and nutrient-dense foods, produced with minimal damage to our environment. Yes, it’s a tall order. For example, daily consumption of specially bred, high-iron beans can prevent and even reverse anaemia in women and children. That ’s a quick, effective response to a condition that can blight their entire lives – entire nations.

    Continue reading
  • PABRA Annual Report 2016/2017 – 20th Anniversary Special Edition

    Citation PABRA. 2017. PABRA Annual Report 2016/2017 – 20th Anniversary Special Edition . Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance – PABRA . Nairobi, KE. 41 p..

    Continue reading
  • Defining a new approach: better beans for Africa

    By Dr. Robin Buruchara, Director of the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) Editorial of PABRA Annual Report 2016 – 20th Anniversary Special Edition Venture onto any small farm…

    Continue reading
  • When spiders unite, they can tie up a lion

    By Debisi Araba, Regional Director for Africa, CIAT There’s an Ethiopian proverb: “When spiders unite, they can tie up a lion.” I’ve always been fascinated with the potential of sustained…

    Continue reading
  • Finding white gold

    By Dr. Jean-Claude Rubyogo, Seed Systems Specialist and East and Central Africa Bean Research Network (ECABREN) Coordinator There was a time when, as researchers, our focus was on breeding beans to…

    Continue reading