by Job Wekhichu, Andrew Kabwama, Winnyfred Amongi, Clare Mukankusi, Patricia Onyango

In ancient days, beans would take long to cook, this meant using more firewood and charcoal to boil, resulting in deforestation which leads to environmental degradation and global warming interfering with the crop productivity. Cooking in African traditional setting was done by women but due to civilization and women emancipation in the world, most women are currently employed and have limited time to attend to some of the household chores such as cooking.

To reduce on social-economic and environmental degradation, the Alliance of Bioversity international and CIAT (Alliance) through their research mandate are working to see that they breed common beans that cook faster and still retain the nutrient quality.

The Alliance has adopted the phenotyping method of characterizing the cooking time trait using Automated Matson cookers (Fig. 1), an innovative cooker that analyzes the time taken for common beans to get ready.

Figure 1: An automated Matson cooker with the control unite box (UDOO)

The Matson cooker is fitted with an automated cooking time data collector that consists of wire ribbon, temperature sensors, contact sensitive terminals and the UDOO. This software system is connected to a computer or smartphone that monitors the cooking time process.

The process is simple, beans that have reached harvest maturity are picked from the field and dried under controlled temperatures to attain a moisture content of 13%. The samples to be cooked are soaked in distilled water for 18 hours prior to mounting onto the machine by lifting the pins and putting them in the engraved wells on the Matson until all the 25 pins are set for cooking (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Job Wekhichu, one of the technicians loading beans on the Matson cooker.

When beans are set on a Mattson cooker, the unit is placed in boiling water and cooked. A pin will drop once the beans are cooked one at time. The beans don’t get ready at the same time. When all the 25 have dropped/cooked, the experiment is stopped.

In this practical case we used 25 bean grains of the same type. The data from the 25 bean grains are downloaded from the system are summarized using a web-based application for further data analysis and selecting beans that cook quickly.

At the Alliance facility Kawanda, 10 Matson cookers are currently available for rapid phenotyping of breeding lines. It is possible to phenotype thirty (30) lines per day. The program envisions enlarging the platform to include 20 Matson cookers to support breeding work in the bean program, Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) and research activities for university students collaborating with the Alliance.

Through research efforts in the bean community, some varieties that cook quickly have been identified, released, and promoted to the end users. The shorter cooking time (less than 60 minutes)  varieties include NABE 6, ROBA1, RWR 1873, NABE 4, NABE 12C, KK20, AWASH MELKA, AMAHUNJA, BIHOGO, CAB2, CNF5520 & G858

Through this process, of identifying lines that have traits for faster cooking, the selected beans will improve the livelihood of end users and preserve the environment.

Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris. L) is an important legume consumed by people of all income categories. In East Africa, it is widely grown for human consumption, with little use of expensive inputs both at subsistence and commercial level. They are adopted to a wider range of environmental conditions such as low, mid, and high altitudes, which make it a common source of household food and income in the region. As a legume, it also contributes to improving and sustaining soil fertility through atmospheric nitrogen fixation.

Beans are a cheap source of proteins and calories, making it highly important in the dietary plan for all. Iron beans have extra advantage because they contain iron which is important for blood formation, brain development and healthy pregnancies. Common beans form a staple diet contributing to nutrition and food security. Their demand is always high as consumers are shifting from other protein sources like meat due to increasing awareness of heathy foods. They are consumed as fresh folia vegetables, wholesome fresh green pods, fresh ripe seeds, or dry seed gains.

Matson cookers with various varieties and timers