Many Kenyans are grappling with food insecurity due to recurrent drought and shrinking farms, but Mrs. Beth Wanjiku Njuguna is not one of them.
The Kiambu farmer has adopted new varieties of climbing beans to replace bush beans, recognizing the potential of the new legumes for mass production.
Mrs. Njuguna, the wife of Lari MP David Njuguna, spends most of her time in the farm and does not regret trying out the new seeds.
The beans, she says, were given to her by a friend who had just returned from Rwanda. She gave them a try and after some months, farmers in the area started enquiring about them.
The bean plant, she says, grows very fast in most soil types, with a single bean stock producing more than 200 pods. These according to Mrs. Njuguna, can yield up to two kilogrammes of shelled beans.
With an initial two kilogrammes of the bean seeds that she got from her friend, Mrs. Njuguna aims to harvest at least four bags from her eight acre piece of land under the crop.
“The beans take three months to mature, which means you can plant three times a year. One plant has the capacity to yield more than two kilogrammes of beans, making it different from local varieties such as rose coco and wairimu (haricot), which barely produces 10-20 pods,” says Mrs. Njuguna.
She adds that a farmer can harvest three to four tonnes of beans as opposed to only one tonne per acre that bush beans yield.
The climbing bean is one of 15 varieties developed by the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR) in collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). It can benefit smallholder farmers in areas with a climate similar to that of Central and East Africa.
Unlike the common bush beans the new varieties are resistant to diseases such as anthracose, root rot and ascochyta, which are prevalent in damp and high altitude areas.
Although she has planted the beans in open land, Mrs. Njuguna points out that it is recommended that they be planted in greenhouses since they require a lot of warmth.
The bean climbs vertically instead of spreading out, an attribute that appeals to farmers with limited farm space. “They have a three-to-one yield advantage over bush beans,” she says.
According to an article by Mediaglobal, the first improved climbing beans were introduced to Rwanda in the mid-1980 and were quickly adopted by farmers.
An outbreak of root disease, however, destroyed most of the crop by the late 1990s. This made many farmers to abandon the climbing beans. A regional programme was started in 2000 to develop a new generation of climbing beans that were disease-resistant and the breeding process led to the new climbing beans.
Lari District agricultural officer Jane Wanjiku says her office has been distributing the seeds to farmers in the area and that the crop was doing well. She says that Embu branch of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) imports the seeds from Rwanda and improves them before releasing them to farmers.
This is to ensure that they are suited to the Kenyan soil and climate. She adds that the beans do extremely well in warm areas but requires greenhouses for cold climate.
By Eric Wainaina