Boaz Waswa, Josey Kamanda, Justin Mabeya, Eileen Nchanji, David Karanja, Patricia Onyango, Owen Kimani

She wonders why she has to go through the tedious ritual of hitting the bean harvest using sticks to put food on her family’s table!

“My hands are hard and blistered because I have to use this stick to thresh the beans after harvesting. It takes too long to finish the work, and I do not have sufficient energy to do it at my age”, said Jane Chepkwony, a farmer from Gorgor, Bomet County looking at the pile of beans harvested from the three-acre piece of land waiting to be threshed.

This is the dilemma thousands of bean farmers, especially women and youth, face every harvest season. Without mechanization, the farmer has to rely on family labor or expensive hired labor to thresh beans.

Bean is an important crop contributing to food and nutrition security, incomes for thousands of smallholder farmers especially women, observes David Karanja, the National Bean Program Coordinator. KALRO has developed bean varieties rich in Iron and Zinc, which, if consumed, will reduce malnutrition, mainly anaemia, stunting, and reduced immunity. Our research and development work aims to encourage the wider production and consumption of these beans. But high labor costs especially at harvesting could stand in the way of achieving the goal of putting nutritious foods on the table.

‘’It takes days to thresh piles of beans and winnow them to separate the chaff from the grain. Losses are high due to the scattering of the beans especially during transportation from the farm before threshing. Coincidentally, this is when the farmer is at the lowest financial position, having spent the most money during production.’’ said Dr. Boaz Waswa, a researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (Alliance).

The MCT testing on-site with some beans as partners watch

Luckily, the above predicament is about to change for the better. With the introduction of the Multi Crop Thresher (MCT) in Kenya by the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA). The intervention is part of the innovations introduced by PABRA to reduce drudgery, minimize post-harvest grain loss and contamination of the beans grain, and create job opportunities, especially for women and youth who provide threshing services along the bean value chain.

PABRA, through the support from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Swiss Agency for  Development Corporation (SDC), has facilitated access to 10 multi crop threshers for bean producer groups in Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Nyamira, Machakos, Makueni, Embu, and Nyeri Counties. The Alliance and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) will test the threshers jointly with farmers to assess their effectiveness and efficiency under the smallholder context in Kenya, with the possibility of a wider scaling out.

These threshers were developed by ImaraTech Ltd, a private social enterprise based in Arusha, Tanzania, after training of artisans organized in 2019 by PABRA in collaboration with the Soybean Innovation Lab, University of Missouri. Following this training, ImaraTech fabricated the MCT that is now being promoted widely in Tanzania and across the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

According to Alfred Chengula, one of the innovators at ImaraTech, the thresher is powered by a petrol engine, making it 75 times faster than manual threshing. The machine can thresh up to eight (8) different crops: beans, maize, millet, sorghum, pigeon pea, green grams, sunflower, and wheat. The machine has been enhanced with a winnower to improve the grain cleaning process and the grain quality thereof. In an hour the machine threshes eight bags of beans, consuming one litre of petrol with a maximum of three people to operate. Normally, it would take the 3 people at least ten days to beat the beans with sticks and sort eight bags of beans.

Justin Mabeya, the Technology Transfer Officer under Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), says that introducing the MCT to Kenya is part of the technology transfer effort to boost bean production and improve post-harvest handling. Jointly with farmers, we will be learning how the MCT performs and share lessons to the manufacturer or develop other prototypes locally in the country.

‘’We have never seen a thresher for beans. This one will help us shorten the time of threshing and separation of beans, and manage the scarce but expensive labor. The time saved translates to more money and relief to attend to other important aspects in the home,’’ says Lucy Wairimu, Chairlady of Ushirikiano Self-help Group in Nakuru.

According to Eileen Nchanji, a gender expert at Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, women and youth bear the burden of manual labor on the farms. Women-friendly technologies, targeting at relieving this load through the use of mechanization are highly welcome.

‘’The high rate of youth unemployment remains a critical concern for County governments. Our focus is on how to create job opportunities through agro-enterprises and service provision. Mechanization presents an attractive entry point for achieving this,’’ said Dr. David Letuati, Chief Officer Agriculture, Narok.

The MCT is portable and can be attached on a motorcycle, making it easy to move from farm to farm to offer threshing services to farmers during the harvest season. The threshers also create job opportunities for the youth.

We see this thresher creating job opportunities and attracting our youth into agriculture as threshing service providers”, observed John Koileken, the Chairman of the Kismayian farmer group in Kisiriri, Narok.

Because the MCT is portable and capable of threshing different crops, the service provider can reach more farmers, earning them revenues throughout the cropping seasons of the different crops.

The producer groups have been encouraged to form a committee to manage the use of the equipment. Designated members of the group will be trained on how to operate the threshers efficiently. Farmers requesting threshing services will pay an agreed fee by the farmer organization or cooperative. These funds will cater to the operators’ labor and the machines’ maintenance costs as part of the sustainability plan.

As part of learning, a team of researchers from the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and KALRO’s Centre for Agricultural Mechanization, Katumani, will evaluate various models for service provision and income generation around the bean threshers.

“The support of PABRA to our cooperatives is highly welcome”, noted Dr. Sigei, Chief Officer, Cooperatives, Bomet County. The county encourages collective action through organized farmer organizations to ease group training, technology transfer, and collective marketing.

‘’The mechanized thresher is innovative and will ease bean production, improve efficiency, create more job opportunities at the farm level,’’ reiterated Josey Kamanda, the TAAT High Iron Bean Compact Coordinator.