As part of our contribution to the United Nations’ International Year of Pulses, we’re starting a blog series called “Bean-Growing Country of the Month.” This first article focuses on a country that is rebuilding its bean research programme with assistance from the CIAT-supported Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance. Earlier this year, the Center received funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for a project titled ‘Improving food security, nutrition, incomes, natural resource base and gender equity for better livelihoods of smallholder households in Sub-Saharan Africa’. Some of the 5-year project’s funds were earmarked to strengthen bean activities in two flagship countries – Burundi and Zimbabwe. Partners launched the flagship initiative in Burundi on 17 and 18 November 2015.

“I am with Burundi” came the words of a colleague as he left Bujumbura, referring to the engagement and commitment of national partners to transform Burundi’s bean sector. It was a sentiment echoed by each member of the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) who travelled to Burundi for the launch.

Burundi has a long history with PABRA. As one of its founding members, along with Rwanda and DR Congo, Burundi once had a strong bean research programme supporting improved food security and nutrition for its population of 10 million.

Sadly, the programme suffered during 17 years of civil war. Since its end in 2005, the formidable Capitoline Ruraduma, Burundi’s bean research programme leader at the Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU), has been working hard with her team and partners to restore it with the support of PABRA. They are determined that the current situation, which has left the international community fearing for the stability of this small landlocked country, will not halt progress.

“We need to produce food for the population. Everybody needs it. I don’t think one should sit and say that since there are problems we should not to this,” she said, as fellow researchers, NGOs, government officials, business owners and farmer organisations met to agree how the initiative will be implemented. “We have to involve ourselves.”

Her commitment and that of partners to ensuring the project meets its aims is palpable. It stems from a real need to intensify and improve agriculture for a growing population, most of whom live on less than $1.25 a day. Even before recent events led to food price hikes and falling incomes, less than one third of Burundians were food secure, and more than half were chronically malnourished.

PABRA works with 30 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to tackle these issues. In Burundi, where bean consumption is among the highest in the world (around 60 kg per capita per year before the civil war) and more than 90% of farmers grow beans for food and income, they could prove an even more potent entry point.

Small strides, big challenges
In 10 years, Capitoline and her small team of researchers have made much progress. The ‘bean team’ is the strongest of all ISABU crop research departments. Through regional germplasm exchange and capacity building from PABRA, ISABU has released 17 improved varieties that are high yielding, early maturing, highly marketable and more nutritious. To ensure these new varieties reach farmers, researchers are building partnerships with farmers, small seed entrepreneurs and NGOs to multiply quality seed. They have also trained farmers and extension service providers in better crop management practices, communities in nutrition and entrepreneurial women in bean processing, such as bean flour production. But there are many challenges that need to be addressed.

The majority of farmers are struggling to access quality seed and knowledge of improved agronomic practices. Most can’t afford to invest in inputs to increase their yields or storage facilities to prevent post-harvest loss to pests. All of which put them at the mercy of opportunistic traders, who buy grain at low prices after harvest when farmers need cash, and sell it back at a higher price when they need food.

Poor bean productivity in Burundi has led to trade opportunities for neighbouring farmers in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, whose imported beans make up the shortfall between production and demand. Burundians eat an estimated 350,000 tons a year, yet national production only meets two thirds of the demand.

“This situation is not positive,” says Capitoline. “Burundians eat beans at every meal but some families can only afford a small quantity which is not enough for the whole household. The situation has to change.”

Back in Bujumbura, 65 partners spent an intensive two days discussing the challenges, the contribution each will make to address them and the additional support, such as training, needed to achieve their goals.

They were spurred on by stories from fellow PABRA countries, such as Rwandan farmers who increased their yields and incomes through improved climbing bean varieties and better seed systems, and Ethiopia, which has built a $90 million bean export industry providing incomes for three million farmers.

Robin Buruchara, CIAT’s Africa Region Director, said: “Burundi was selected for this flagship project because of the strength of its partnership with CIAT and PABRA, and because of the opportunities and potential for bean research to reduce poverty and malnutrition. To do that we need to exploit the strengths that each of the different actors and agencies bring to the partnership. We want to support Burundi achieve the same success in beans as we have in Rwanda, Kenya and other PABRA member countries.”

Project activities will be specifically aimed at: extending climbing bean technologies; strengthening seed production and delivery; bridging the yield gap through promotion of integrated crop management systems; supporting nutrition initiatives, including the wider use of more nutritious beans (with higher iron and zinc content); increasing women’s access to production resources and basic nutrition skills; increasing access to profitable markets in an inclusive (women and men farmers) manner; and supporting the capacity building of researchers, partners, value chain actors and farmers. During the two day meeting, partners agreed on key project sites/areas of implementation, complementary roles/activities and key monitoring indicators among other items.

Government support
The partnership has captured the support of Burundi’s new Minister of Agriculture, Dr Deo Guide Rurema, who opened the planning workshop. A scientist himself, and former food security and nutrition advisor to the government, Rurema has put the participation of farmers in research as central to his drive to intensify agricultural production and to improve post harvest management.

Speaking at the event, he said: “This fits in with the objectives of national food security policy that prioritises the organisation and development of the seed sector in Burundi to increase agricultural production and thus improve the living conditions of the population and rural households in particular.”

A hopeful future
As the meeting drew to a close, Capitoline shared her hopes for the shape of Burundi’s bean sector in five years’ time. “I want to see more farmers using quality seed of improved bean varieties and complementary crop management. I want to see increased production so that farmers have enough to eat in the home and to sell for a good profit. And I want to us to be exporting beans, not importing them.”

Looking around at the partners making their plans, she finished, “I believe things will go well.”


Interested in pulses? Don’t miss the PanAfrican Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference in Livingstone, Zambia from 28 February to 4 March 2016.

Co-hosted by IITA, the Legume Innovation Lab, CIAT and partners, the event has been selected as one of 11 UN signature events during the International Year of Pulses 2016. It will bring together more than 400 scientists, academics, farmers and business people from Africa and throughout the world to showcase the latest scientific agriculture research on pulses in the region. Conference themes include: human nutrition and diets, genetic improvement, gender and youth, seed systems, climate resilience, plant pathology, integrated pest management, linking farmers to markets, and value chains.