Ugandan scientists create bean strains to fight anaemia

Saturday November 8 2014

By ISAAC KHISA, TEA Special Correspondent

Ugandan scientists have developed new bean varieties that are rich in iron and zinc. The beans will help reduce anaemia in pregnant mothers, as well as improve food security.

The scientists behind the research say the beans could provide an affordable alternative to meat for of most of the country’s households.

Dr Michael Ugeni, the lead scientist at the Uganda’s National Crop Resources Institute, said they have developed five lines each of climbing and bush beans with higher iron and zinc micro-nutrients content than ordinary beans.

“We are currently testing these lines across the country to establish their performance in terms of farmers’ preferences and colour. On completion, we will select two climber and three bush beans lines to present to the Variety Release Committee for release to farmers next year,” Dr Ugeni said.

Iron is required for the production of red blood cells, and also forms part of haemoglobin (the pigment of the red blood cells), facilitates transportation of oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body.  Zinc helps to strengthen the body’s immune system.

Dr Ugeni said whereas the common bean varieties contain 40 to  50 milligrammes and 15 to 20 milligrammes of iron and zinc respectively per kilogramme, the new varieties contain as much as 70 milligrammes and between 30 and 35 milligrammess of iron  and  zinc per kilogramme.

Uganda’s Ministry of Health said the beans will improve the health of locals.

“This is a very good development because one strategy cannot address anaemia in the country. We are currently giving pregnant mothers tablets rich in iron to boost their immunity, but only 2 per cent complete the dose of 180 tablets,” Agnes Chandia, a nutritionist at Uganda’s Ministry of Health, said.

Ms Chandia said whereas iron deficiency is thought to be the most common cause of anaemia globally, other conditions such as folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin A deficiencies, chronic inflammation, parasitic infections, poor hygiene and inherited disorders also cause anaemia in pregnant mothers and child mortality.

Data from Uganda’s Ministry of Health shows that anaemia cases in the country are 23 per cent of women aged 15-45 years, and 50 per cent in children under age five, with Eastern, Northern and the West Nile being the worst hit regions.

Uganda’s bean production is 929,000 metric tonnes with 80 per cent consumed locally, and the rest exported to the neighbouring countries including Kenya and South Sudan.