• Drought, pests and disease on the rise hit harvests in Zimbabwe

    By Enid Katungi For the past two decades, the Pan-Africa Bean Research alliance (PABRA), has stepped-up efforts in Zimbabwe to help farmers boost their bean production as a pathway to reducing poverty.  This is done with the support of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC). With the same support, we conducted a nation-wide baseline survey, interviewing 750 bean growing households in 2016.  Our findings show that incidences of drought, pests and disease are on the rise, causing significant yield loss – especially for farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture. Farmers who have access to irrigation are better able to mitigate the effects of drought, by applying more inputs to obtain higher yields. But for those relying on rain-fed agriculture, access to more resilient bean varieties is more urgent than ever. In addition, improved bean seeds need to be used in tandem with fertilizers at optimal rates. High seed prices pose another limiting factor for smallholder farmers, and strategies to reduce the price of seed may include linking community based seed production with formal seed companies, strengthening rural based-seed marketing outlets. Our results show that any innovation including seeds – to be attractive to farmers – should increase bean yields by at least 30 percent under rain-fed, and 10 percent under irrigated conditions. Gender implications: The study also highlights some socioeconomic aspects critical for maximizing impacts. First, use of irrigation in bean production increases demand for labor. Women are more likely to bear the burden of unpaid labor, while men benefit from increased demand for hired labor. Although women mostly influence decisions around bean production, men still control various aspects of sale. Women also decide what is put on the family table for food – but the research shows that while families may cultivate beans, 33 percent of households eat beans only once a week, compared to 4.6 times a week by food secure households. These outcomes of the report urge that complementary interventions – in addition to improved bean varieties – are necessary. Lessons learned… Farmers are generally satisfied with the bean market traits but a significant number of them would prefer to access new varieties that are improved in their production traits to cope with increase in production constraints. From this study, we have learnt that private seed companies play an important role in variety diffusion in Zimbabwe, but their marketed varieties cannot be easily identified by farmers. Thus knowledge management systems should consider integrating actors including farmers to facilitate the closing of this knowledge gap. As the new technologies are disseminated to farmers, there is also need to monitor how gender influences uptake as well as changes in gender roles and control over beans. Photo credit: Neil Palmer / CIAT  

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  • 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.

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  • Banking on a Sustainable Future: From one diverse continent to another

    Common beans evolved in often extreme environments. They offer important opportunities for breeders across Africa to breed beans in varied conditions – from humid highland environments, to near-arid environments with high temperatures and drought. ThePhaseolus genus has what it takes to confront problems that for years we thought to be intractable. Dr. Steve Beebe, CIAT's Bean Program Leader   PABRA’s bean breeding programs are closely integrated with CIAT’s program at its headquarters in Cali, Colombia, which hosts the largest Phaseolus bean genebank in the world, containing over 37,000 bean types. Beans with high iron, resistance to diseases such as root rots, heat tolerance, drought tolerance, tolerance to soil problems, and insect resilience, are uniquely bred in Colombia, or made available to PABRA’s partners. This represents huge potential: for example, using Phaseolus coccineus, the scarlet runner bean, researchers in Rwanda continue tobreed beans with even higher levels of acid soil tolerance of up to pH 4 – which could dramatically improve yields in environments in western Rwanda, northern Zambia, and other countries. Beans stored in the genebank show potential for unique disease resistance that has not yet been tapped in Africa. Reports suggest that some bean species may carry resistance to the most destructive pest of bean in Africa - bean stem maggot. If beans resilient to bean stem maggot could be released in Africa, that would be a major step forward, making beans more profitable for farmers.  

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  • 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..

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • 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…

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  • Commodity Corridors: A paradigm shift in PABRA’s business

    In the last 20 years, PABRA researchers have found that novel approaches are needed to eliminate bean production bottlenecks. We have made significant progress towards getting better beans to…

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  • Transforming agriculture for better incomes and diets in Africa

    Citation PABRA. 2017. Transforming agriculture for better incomes and diets…

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  • Scaling success: leading change with the Syngenta Foundation

    The catalyst for change came from catastrophe in Kenya, when farmers in the western part of the country lost their maize harvest to disease in 2012. At that time, Jacinta Majimbo, a bean farmer from Bungoma district in Western Kenya, could never be sure what her harvest might yield. Without access to quality seed, she often ended up with plants that only had a few pods.Then she discovered bean KK-8. This large red mottled bean is now available in clear packaging with labelled credentials. She knows exactly what she’s buying: an early-maturing seed that’s resistant to root rot; cooks quickly and is high-yielding.For Jacinta, the advantages of harvesting an additional 35 kilograms of beans each season are obvious. “It provides more food, and I can sell some to pay for school fees and other expenses,” she says. “KK-8 has made a big difference.” Yet until a few years ago, she had never heard of it – or been able to find it at the market. Taking better seeds to scale During the time that Kenya’s maize was hit by disease, Jonathan Mayer, joint-owner of Bubayi Products Ltd – a family-run seed business in Kenya’s North Rift region – saw a big gap in the market to provide seeds of alternative crops. “I saw what disease was doing to maize. It was wiping out entire harvests. Farmers needed access to alternative crops that weren’t available at their local agro-dealer,” he said. Bubayi had the necessary infrastructure, land and skills to produce “quality seed” of a sufficiently high standard for sale to farmers. And unlike other companies, they were also willing to take the risk and invest their own money. Joining forces with One Acre Fund – with a ready market of 167,000 potential customers with a growing interest in bean seed – they took the risk. Tapping the emerging market Bubayi, One Acre Fund and the Kenyan Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization formed a public-private partnership, supported by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, to make KK-8 and other improved beans available to farmers. Led by KALRO, in partnership with CIAT through the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance, it brought together seed companies, individual seed entrepreneurs, bean traders and processors in Kenya.As explains CIAT’s Jean-Claude Rubyogo, a seed systems specialist and member of the PABRA network: “The private sector has the infrastructure and investment to really increase bean production. Through partnerships, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in seed availability and accessibility across Africa.” Dr. Reuben Otsyula, from KALRO’s research station in Kakamega, partnered with Bubayi to produce breeder seeds – a necessity in bean seed systems. He provided 80 grams of another high-performing bean, CAL194, to Bubayi Seed Company in late 2014. Two years later, there are 7,550kg of breeder seeds in bags waiting to be sold. “That’s the power of the private sector,” said Rubyogo. “The partnerships have transformed bean markets in Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya – successes which can be replicated in other countries,” said George Osure, Regional Director for the SFSA in East Africa. “The partnerships have transformed bean markets in Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya – successes which can be replicated in other countries.” George OsureRegional Director, Syngenta Foundation in East Africa Market-driven demand: listening to the consumer Improved bean varieties are now commercially available, through licensing of released varieties to private companies. This model has also sped up improved seed releases in other countries, through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), for example. A formal process of release documentation in catalogues, for instance, means that iron-biofortified beans previously released in Rwanda, did not need to go through rigorous variety registration procedures all over again when they were released in Burundi. The return on investment speaks for itself: a US$1 million donor investment has already generated more than US$3 million in improved seed revenues. A total of 146,000 farmers in Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya now have access to improved bean varieties – on average, 15kg per farmer. This is estimated to bring in a potential income of US$248 per farm in each country. Farmers like Jacinta are realizing that with a minimal investment in higher quality, certified seeds they can triple their yields and avoid disappointment at harvest. Photo credits: Jean-Claude Rubyogo Call to Action: Further investment is required to scale this approach in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia to register varieties and issue licences translating into royalties with private companies from 2017. Policy makers need to invest in improved cross-country cataloguing standards, to spur cross-border trade and speed up new varieties releases, making business more attractive as economies of scale come into play. Investment by the private sector in the long-term is required to ensure licenses stay relevant for smallholder farmers and benefit them.

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