Rwandan farmers have adopted new varieties of climbing beans to replace bush beans, recognising the potential of climbing beans to supply a greater amount of food and income. Improvements have been made to climbing beans to make them more adaptable to harsh climates. In fact, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) released eight varieties of climbing beans to farmers on January 15, 2010.
Louise Sperling, principle researcher with CIAT, says a farmer can produce three to four tonnes per hectare (ha) in contrast to only one tonne that bush beans may yield. This is important to Rwandan farmers who on average have 0.7 hectares of land to feed a household of seven or eight people, explains Sperling.
“With climbing beans growing vertically instead of spreading out which helps farmers with limited space for planting, they have a three-to-one yield advantage compared to bush bean varieties,” says Paul Kimani, regional bean breeder and professor at the University of Nairobi. “This is crucial to Rwandan farmers because of diminishing land sizes and a growing population.”
“Current figures show at least 65 percent of Rwandan farmers growing beans,” says Sperling. The adoption of the climbing beans has meant an additional income of US$20 million for Rwandan farmers.
“Climbing beans can be grown easily even in tiny urban plots and the leaves are edible and rich not only in protein but also minerals, particularly iron and zinc,” says Kimani. With growing population pressure, the climbing beans help in meeting food security needs.
“Beans are now considered a health crop because they are free of cholesterol; beans are rich in dietary fibre and have been shown to have positive benefits for people with HIV, cancer, and obesity,” says Kimani. Other benefits of the new bean varieties include improved nutrition and larger revenues for farmers.
The first improved climbing beans were introduced in Rwanda in the mid-1980s and were quickly adopted by farmers, but an outbreak of root disease destroyed most of the crop by the late 1990s, explains Kimani.
The root disease led many farmers to abandon the climbing beans. A new regional programme began in 2000 to develop a new generation of climbing beans that were disease-resistant, and the new breeding process led to the development of the new climbing beans in Rwanda.
CIAT works to provide farmers with many new climbing bean varieties and they have gained support from many other organisations, including the Swiss Development Corporation, Canadian Agency for International Development, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and national governments.
“The new varieties are adapted to marginal areas where heat stress and high humidity are a major challenge,” says Kimani, adding, “They are doing very well not only in Rwanda but also in Kenya, Cameroon, lower humid zones of western Congo, and many other regions which were previously considered not suitable for beans.”
Sperling adds that the new climbing beans are more tolerant of heat and are better at lower elevations and areas affected by droughts.
“The high excitement in Rwanda is spreading climbing beans to neighbouring regions: south west Uganda, Burundi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya,” she says, calling the new beans a winner technology, because they are productive, good for places with scarce land, fill the stomach, and increasingly “fill the purse”.
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