• Precooked beans set to reach more households in Africa

    When the first phase of Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) project came to an end in 2016, it was clear that a larger scale production and dissemination plan was needed…

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  • Super Flour to boost nutrition in Uganda

    Nutreal Ltd together with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) Legumes Programme launched a nutrient dense porridge targeting low income communities. The launch…

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  • Sensitization on Gender-responsive nutrition in rural Uganda: A community approach

    By Eileen Bogweh Nchanji and Grace Nanyonjo ‘Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.’ Women empowerment is cited as one of the pathways…

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  • Beans on a spoon

    Technologies for Agricultural Transformation in High Iron Bean in Africa

    We recently kicked off inception meetings in eight target countries for Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) Programme. TAAT is a flagship programme funded by the

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  • From theory to practice

    Ndu subdivision, Ntumbaw (ntu means hills  and mbaw means valleys) village in North-West Cameroon is generally cold in the hills and hot in the valleys. Wilson Nfor Gwei,  born in the South…

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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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  • Nutritious meals for cash-strapped and busy mothers launched in Kenya

    Fast-cooking beans and nutritious bean snacks have hit supermarket shelves in Western Kenya. The products target women who may need to prepare meals in a short period of time for the whole family.  The fast-cooking beans have been pre-cooked, and only need to be boiled for 15 minutes. They contain all the nutrition and appearance of regular dry beans and others come in a packet like peanuts and can be eaten right away. Regular dry beans can take around three hours to cook, requiring more firewood or charcoal. Fetching firewood or buying charcoal take up time, energy and money, mostly impacting women and girls, who are in charge of preparing meals and collecting firewood, and who may also have another job.  Developed together with the private sector company Lasting Solutions Ltd., the pre-cooked beans and snacks are labeled “quick-cook” or “ready to eat”, and have been industrially precooked, using water but no preservatives or additives. A team of PABRA researchers tested 47 bean varieties to establish which ones can cook faster while still retaining their taste, color,shortlisting 12.  Joab Ouma, Director of Lasting Solutions, a partner in the development of both products, said:  "This partnership combines knowledge about beans, with the needs of consumers.  When Lasting Solutions reaches full capacity, it expects that ten percent of customers across Kenya who currently buy dry beans, will switch to pre-cooked beans.  Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO)’s National Coordinator for Grain Legumes, David Karanja, said the products will also help Kenya plug a 60 percent gap in local consumer demand, while buildingcapacity of local industries to generate income.  "This innovative partnership combines research and private sector expertise to move a product into the market, responding directly to our objective to have impact at scale. These will save women’s time and improve nutrition. What we like about workingwith this type of partnership is that they make products more easily available for low- and middle-income households – especially women.  The products are also good news for farmers like Nancy Adhiambo. Already a bean grower, she struggled to find a good market and price for her beans. Then, through local charity Caritas Internationalis, she found out about two of the 12 varieties sought by Lasting Solutions. The development of precooked beans and bean snack products use the Commodity Corridor approach, which brings together partners in bean production, distribution, and consumption hubs.   The US$2.5 million, three-year project, is funded under the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund, a program of Canada’s IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The pre-cooked beans project is led by KALRO in Kenya, and in Uganda by NARO, with CIAT through PABRA.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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