Uganda’s ′super beans′ - an answer to food insecurity? | Africa | DW | 22.12.2017
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Food

Uganda’s 'super beans' - an answer to food insecurity?

"Super bean" is the catchy word for a bio-fortified variety of beans developed in Uganda. They’re nutritious, grow fast and are a good basis to feed Uganda’s growing population.

"They are very fast in growing. These beans are good yielders," 55-year-old Florence Nakasumba, explained as she worked on her small patch of land. She is a small-scale farmer in Masaka district in Central Uganda. "You have to plant one seed. You have to plant it very early [in the year] and you have to make sure that it is well weeded." She added.

The seeds that Nakasumba is using are the so-called "super beans" or Namulonge Beans (NABE). They're a bio-fortified seed variety, bred by Uganda's National Crops Resources Research Institute and they're drought tolerant, have high nutritional value and attain good yields.

They're also resistant to a number of diseases. "There was a problem of diseases which were attacking the beans, so our farmers were getting a lot of problems with the yields," Gabriel Luyima, one of the scientists who developed the seeds explained. "Another major thing which we looked at was bean production in areas where other beans could not perform, especially in areas with sandy soils and places where the water retention was low."

Sacks of beans in a warehouse (DW/F. Yiga)

There's a high demand for the beans, says Richard Masagazi, who manages a seed company

Feeding refugees

Beans are eaten every day and are the main source of protein for many Ugandans, especially those in large communities such as schools, barracks, prisons and the refugees living in camps.

The government of Uganda is impressed by this high yield bean variety. The commissioner in charge of refugees, David Apollo Kazungu, hopes that the seeds will address the feeding gap experienced by the ever-increasing number of refugees, most of whom have fled the conflict in South Sudan. Uganda is estimated to currently host over 1.4 million refugees which makes it one of the highest refugee-hosting countries worldwide. It also has a very progressive refugee policy, in which it provides the refugees with land on which they can live and farm.

"Food self-sufficiency is an idea the government thinks is worth investing in to ensure that you dignify the lives of these persons while in an asylum," Kazungu told DW. "The introduction of the NABE bean variety is a welcome innovation. They are conducive to the environs."

While the idea of self-reliance is good in theory, many of the refugees and poorer populations in Uganda still require food aid to meet their needs.

"In West Nile [region] we have seen a number of interventions being done by various actors and this is one of them. We feel it can go a long way in addressing a question of malnutrition and food self-sufficiency," Kazungu added.

Beans in hands (DW/F. Yiga)

Beans are a main source of protein for many Ugandans

Good market

Besides feeding refugees, the super beans have become quite popular in Uganda. Richard Masagazi is the managing director of the seed company Pearl Seeds Limited. He says that the high demand of the bio-fortified beans, allows them to sell the beans on a first-come-first-served basis.

"In a season we sell about 250 to 300 metric tons (25,000 to 30,000 kilograms) of beans," Masagazi said. "So many people are after them, so we don't know who comes in first to take them."

While the super beans might be a solution for the time being, Heiner Goldbach, Professor at the University of Bonn and an expert in plant breeding, notes that this might not be the case in the future. This is painstaking work and it always needs further development. Having one variety that is well-produced, doesn't mean that it will be resistant to all diseases that can attack the beans, he told DW. Pests and diseases often change over time and might find new ways of attacking the plants, he explained. Breeding new varieties is, therefore, a continuous job for plant scientists. 

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