• 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • R&D helping Africa have special beans to fight anaemia

    Dr. Mercy Lung’aho, a nutritionist at CIAT and member of the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) network, talks to Scidev.net about high iron beans – and how they can…

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  • The world without beans: opinion piece

    By Dr. Robin Buruchara, Director of the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) This opinion piece was first published by the Pan-African Media Alliance for Climate Change…

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  • Snack bars with a winning twist: beans in the international spotlight

      When Harriet Aber entered the LovePulses Showcase competition with her special bean-amaranth energy bar, she never imagined it would take her from Uganda to Chicago. Yet her novel and nutritious snack won her second place in the LovePulses Showcase competition, presented at one of the biggest food expo events in the world at the Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago earlier this year. Harriet – a nutritionist at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and Makerere University – like the bean experts who gathered last week in Kampala to close the UN declared International Year of Pulses – has had an exciting year. She is among the hundreds of dedicated bean researchers in Uganda and across Africa, who have drawn attention to a crop we take for granted – yet that is critical for contributing to better, more nutritious diets in Africa. For Harriet and the community of pulse researchers working on the vitally important common bean, consumed by over 400 million people a year as part of their regular diet, this year has been about celebrating beans – and making them more available to consumers. CIAT’s Dr. Robin Buruchara, Director of the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), a major partner in bean research in Uganda, said: “It’s been a fantastic year for raising awareness of the importance of beans around the world – particularly in Africa, and especially in Uganda.” “But as this International Year draws to a close, the international bean research community will not be dimming the lights on the importance of beans for food and nutrition security across the continent. In fact, the awareness raising campaign this year has highlighted the need for more research to come.” Clare Mukankusi, also from CIAT and a PABRA bean breeder, said the role that beans can play in meeting targets laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals is vital, contributing to sustainable food production, climate mitigation and adaptation, nutrition and income generating goals. “If we’re going to continue to reduce hunger and improve nutrition in Africa, the common bean can help us do it,” she said. “That’s why this is just the start – we’re building on research to improve more beans for more people.” “Beans are essential, yet legumes in general are not getting the attention they deserve at policy level, and researchers are not empowered with the resources they need to get better beans in the hands of more farmers,” she added. “This needs to change, and we’re working with our national, international and regional partners through the PABRA network – which offers us a faster way to introduce and disseminate innovations in bean research across Africa.” Harriet Aber Nutritionist, National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and Makerere University          " Researchers are not empowered with the resources they need to get better beans in the hands of more farmers. Clare Mukankusi Bean breeder, CIAT and PABRA Research has already shown that investment in bean genetic improvement is paying handsome dividends, she noted. For example, households growing improved varieties in Rwanda and Uganda, have increased yields by 53 and 60 percent respectively. The beans are becoming increasingly popular in other major bean producing countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Improved beans have strong, positive impacts on food security in East Africa. For example, CIAT studies indicated that food insecurity would be 2 and 16 percent higher in Uganda and Rwanda respectively without the improved varieties. In Ethiopia, beans improved for canning by the private sector have revolutionized bean production and marketing, with the number of farmers engaged in the value chain increasing by 200 per cent from 0.5 million in 2004 to 1.5 million in 2015. Since 1996, more than 550 new bean varieties have been released across Africa by PABRA members – including high iron varieties which reduce iron deficiency and anemia in young women in Rwanda. Harriet’s Bean Amaranth Energy bar, containing popped amaranth and honey – and Jane Tsela Bean Jam entry from Swaziland which came third in the same competition – are examples of the innovative approaches bean researchers have already used to ensure quality, affordable and nutritious beans reach more people – achievements they will build upon in coming years. Call to action: CIAT and PABRA continue to work with bean programs in more than 30 countries across Africa to strengthen capacity in national research programs and support cutting-edge bean research for improved food and nutrition security in Africa. We will continue to work towards sharing scientific data on bean research – for example establishing common cataloging procedures across all countries – so we can accelerate learning, and fast-track the development of better beans in national feeding programs. The International Year of Pulses has raised global awareness of the importance of beans in our diets. We will build on this momentum to ensure beans are more accessible, affordable and nutritious for the public.

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  • Bean researchers in Ethiopia win highest accolade

    The Ethiopia Bean Research Programme led by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) has won the highest scientific award in the Ethiopia – the Gold medal and…

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