Farmers urged to grow more bio-fortified beans

Saturday August 20 2016

Rwandan farmers tend to their bio-fortified been gardens. PHOTO | JEAN-PIERRE AFADHALI

Rwandan farmers tend to their bio-fortified been gardens. PHOTO | JEAN-PIERRE AFADHALI 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Higher adoption of bio-fortified beans could have a significant impact on reducing malnutrition and boost food security.

A new study published recently in The Journal of Nutrition, an American science publication showed that the consumption of iron fortified beans reduced anaemia and iron deficiency in young Rwandan women in only four-and-a-half months.

Considering the importance of the beans as a predominant staple food in the country; and particularly iron fortified bean variety, the stable seed supply will be crucial, but it involves the whole value chain.

During the study, 239 iron-deficient Rwandan women between the ages of 18 and 27 participated in the research trial. The study found that the estimated body iron increase was 0.50mg per kilogramme higher than in the control group.

Joseph Muyambu, country manager of Harvest Plus, an organisation that focuses on extension, dissemination of seeds in partnership with Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) says, the key challenge is having a reliable source of seeds for farmers to grow the bio-fortified beans.

“When I say reliable, I am talking about the supply; because you don’t want this season you supply the seed, next season you don’t have the seed,” he said.

Currently about 29 per cent of bean farming households are using improved bio-fortified beans varieties.

While the iron fortified beans are relatively a new variety in the country (they were introduced four years ago), some observers have said the rate of adoption is still too low to have an impact.

According to Harvest Plus, seed multipliers lack funding to buy irrigation equipment, because the weather has become “unpredictable.”

“They also need storage facilities. If you are going to increase the volume of bean production, you will find that they will not consume everything,” he said.

Scientists say iron deficiency is one of the commonest micronutrient deficiencies in the world, impacting women, children, and infants severely.

There are currently 50 seed multipliers and 71 co-operatives farming iron fortified beans.

Vital Rwibasira, a seed multiplier from Ruhango district, Southern Province says the seeds’ supply is insufficient. He said that Harvest Plus and RAB should give farmers enough seeds focusing on different areas in different planting seasons.

He also said unpredictable weather affects the production.

“Sometime farmers make losses when there is no sufficient rains," said Mr Rwibasira.

However, some farmers say they consume the seeds they are given because they don’t have food at home.

Rwanda Today has learnt that the demand for bio-fortified beans is high with Ugandan traders also buying the beans in areas bordering the country, which may cause future shortage of the highly nutritious crop.

But Mr Muyambu thinks the high demand is good as it may translate to markets opportunity for bean farming communities and may improve farmers’ livelihood.

He says farmers may use income generated from bio-fortified beans to buy alternative nutritious food. Other food sources of iron include meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables.

Iron deficiency remains the most widespread nutrition deficiency, affecting an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide and under-nutrition is still high in the country.