By Mwangi Mumero
Scientists at the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) have introduced a game-changing development, revolutionising bean production in 31 African countries.
Collaborating with national research organisations, PABRA has developed over 650 bean varieties, tailored to the local conditions, and needs of each nation.
For instance, in partnership with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), they successfully developed resilient “baked beans” varieties that are highly productive and resistant to local pests, diseases, and drought, which were then widely distributed, benefitting millions of farmers.
In Rwanda, locally designed climbing beans have empowered farmers to enhance protein yields, despite limited land availability. Researchers are optimistic that through traditional breeding techniques, iron-enriched beans can help combat malnutrition while high-yielding varieties are poised to elevate farmers’ productivity and profits.
PABRA is also spearheading the introduction of new, nutritious, and delicious bean products in the market to reduce kitchen labour for women.
Kenya stands out with relatively high common bean consumption, estimated at 14 kg per capita annually, but reaching as high as 66 kg/year in the western regions, according to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO).
Efforts to preserve bean genomes across the continent have been ongoing, ensuring the viability of future breeding programmess. PABRA has already established gene banks in Uganda and Rwanda, safeguarding a new generation of beans bred in Africa to address critical challenges specific to the region.
Collaborating with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT’s gene bank in Colombia, home to the world’s most extensive bean collection, PABRA protects over 37,000 bean accessions from 110 countries worldwide.
From rural mountain slopes to bustling urban markets, beans remain a fundamental staple in African cuisine, serving as a primary source of protein for nearly half a billion people every day.
Researchers have identified various bean varieties with unique attributes, such as high iron content, resilience to diseases, heat tolerance, flood resistance, pest and disease tolerance, and varying maturation times, all contributing to higher income for farmers.
Despite their remarkable hardiness, beans face an array of new challenges, including climate change-induced droughts and floods, escalating pest, and disease pressures. In response, breeders are working tirelessly to develop superior bean varieties that can thrive in Africa’s evolving agricultural landscape.