East Africa is set to benefit from a new crop technology that seeks to produce a bean variety with a shorter cooking time.
Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia are the target countries of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project.
The five-year project, a collaborative research between scientists from the University of Western Australia and agricultural research institutes was launched recently in Kampala. It seeks to cut cooking time in common beans by at least 30 per cent. Research shows bean varieties in East Africa take between one and three hours to cook.
“For the first time, we are making cooking time a core objective of the crop improvement programmes. In addition to promoting unique plant breeding methods, we are assisting the breeding programmes in partner countries to modernise using electronic data capture and data management through the breeding management system called BMS” said ACIAR crops research manager, Dr Eric Huttner.
The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is a major component of agricultural systems and diets of urban and rural populations of East Africa, and is a source of protein and the micronutrients iron and zinc.
However, Dr Huttner said the attractiveness of the crop is hampered by the long cooking time.
“The cooking time is a disincentive to many smallholder households as it demands large amounts of resources (water, time and firewood or charcoal as fuel) most of which are the responsibility of women,” he said.
Burning solid fuel impacts the environment and imposes a health risk to women through exposure to smoke during cooking. Any reduction in cooking time would be attractive to consumers and the small processors supplying the urban consumers, said Dr Huttner.
Further, the programme also aims to create higher protein and nutrients (iron and zinc) to promote the health and well-being of consumers.
“We’re aiming at increasing iron content by 15 per cent and zinc by 10 per cent over current varieties,” said Dr Huttner.
Through the project, gender-inclusive training programmes will be conducted on the new breeding methods.