• The Kenya Academic Year of the Bean

    On a Thursday afternoon, a group of 38 students of Mwireri Secondary School, Mweiga Nyeri are busy in school farm with their agriculture and head teacher, Mr. George Murage,…

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  • Fighting Iron Deficiency; New Improved High-iron and Zinc Beans Released in Tanzania

    High-iron beans are a special type of conventionally bred biofortified beans that contain high levels of iron and zinc. Biofortification enhances the nutritional value of staple food crops by…

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  • Empowering women to take leadership roles in bean business platforms in Rwanda

    Participants of the bean business platform workshop in Kigali, Rwanda. (Credit; Lilies Gachanja) by Eileen Nchanji, Eliud Birachi, Mercy Mutua, Leonidas Dusenge and Lilies Gachanja Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA)…

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  • Closing the gender gap in farming households: An entry point towards agricultural transformation in Africa

    By Eileen Nchanji, Chantal Ingabire and Eliud Birachi Agricultural transformation is one of the leading efforts for poverty reduction and food security in Africa. Governments, development agencies and researchers agree…

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  • The business of plant breeding; The business case for new variety development

    The Business of Plant Breeding is the result of a study on demand-led plant variety design for markets in…

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  • 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  

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Building partnerships to fight malnutrition

    In spite of its fragile state, Burundi saw much progress in nutrition in 2016. A strong partnership between the Ministry of Health (PRONIANUT) and the Ministry of Agriculture (ISABU) has led to 11 farmer cooperatives receiving training on how to produce nutritious bean flour for the market and household consumption. A community crèche has been set up for mothers, accepting 351 children two to five years old. Two community members take turns caring for the children while the other mothers are out farming. A bean-based porridge is prepared for the children at the crèche.  Christella Ndayishimiye started her business TOTOHARA in 2009 with just a few bags of bean flour for friends. Today, she now sells four metric tons of flour a month and is struggling to keep up with demand. Her new product add value to beans, fetching better prices for her and the farmers who supply her business, while also nurturing consumers.  “I saw that older and younger people needed more nutritious food. But the flour sold at the market was not of high quality or  nutritious, so I started making it for my family, neighbors and friends. It was really popular and soon they convinced me to start making it for others as well.” Christella got the idea for making the flour from a training session she attended, facilitated through PABRA. Glancing over at the neat rows of bean flour she has on the shelves of her shop, she reflects on her progress. “Now I have bought a bicycle to transport the bean flour bags to small markets to supply different customers in Bujumbura. My family has relied on the income from this factory – now I can send my children to school and I have also adopted one child. My hope for TOTOHARA is to expand to other countries, so we can even export,”  - she said. What's next Development projects providing free composite flour for pregnant women are distorting the market and research is needed to train others about the benefits of partnering with private sector entrepreneurs like Christella Ndayishimiye. Further dialogue is needed among the agriculture and nutrition sectors to evaluate the sustainability of investments, to ensure a sustainable, food secure, future. Richard Hatungimana works with PABRA through the Institut des Siences Agronomique du Burundi (ISABU), to multiply high quality beans for more farmers in Burundi. Since he started growing high-iron climbing beans in 2012 on just one hectare of land, he has bought another seven hectares. He used the income from the extra yield to reinvest around US$17,000 back into his farm in thelast five years. He now also has livestock and grows other crops on his farm.

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  • Drought beating beans triple yields

    George Oketch Achola is a farmer on the banks of Lake Victoria, Western Kenya, earns 70 percent of his income from beans. He supplies Lasting Solutions Ltd. with improved bean varieties. He has more than tripled his production using new varieties, which he discovered through PABRA members including the local charity Caritas Internationalis.   "These new beans are drought resilient and higher yielding. George Oketch Achola   Now, from 2 kilograms of seed, he produces 90 kilograms of beans to sell – compared with the 20 kilograms possible with local varieties. He can put more nutritious meals on the table, and invest the profit back into his home and family.

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