Farmers assist scientists in breeding high variety bean variety

Farmers in Butula area of Busia are assisting researchers breed high yielding bean varieties that suit their consumption needs, after a bacteria disease wiped entire fields leading to Sh5million in yield loss in one season, to a crop that provides two thirds of all the protein eaten in the area. The earlier bean crop has been affected by a disease called anthracnose, which causes blistering on the pods.

An attempt by scientists and researchers in the area to counter that with a superior disease-resistant varieties flopped when the varieties became unpopular with the locals due to new attributes like colour, longer cooking time and taste. Families in the area prefer red and black beans due to their faster cooking time and ease of access.

“We ignored these attributes and went ahead to introduce the varieties that we thought could resist diseases and mature fast, but we ignored the other traits that were equally important to the farmers. That is why we had to go back to the drawing board,”said Meshack Waiti a researcher with Faida Shambani, an agro inputs company. Going to the drawing board meant trainining a section of local farmers who would then share the breeding knowledge with their fellow farmers. In some cases, farmers are also trained to become seed producers, so that new varieties can be spread more quickly.

The new variety known as mshusho C2 also matures fast, taking only 60 days, and requires little farm management. “ll you need to change is, you have to have proper spacing, you have to grow it on time, give it a bit of weeding so that it does not compete with weeds, as the normal practice that farmers do.

But most importantly, the farmer has to have the spacing right,”said Josphat Wafula one of the trained bean breeders. But it is the commercial aspect of the bean breeders that has encouraged the quick uptake of the seed. For farmers like Wafula who are lucky to be near Busia town where one of the breeding training program was happening, this was not only a venture that assisted them to replace the disease prone bean varieties, but a money minting one.

Since there are certain areas of Butula that seed companies cannot reach, breeders like Wafula who are in touch with many farmers travel deep in the heart of these villages to sell them the seeds. On a good day Wafula makes up to Sh3,000 on seed sale alone.

“We took a few samples to them for free and they were impressed with the results. After two months we went back with the packaged varieties which they bought right away.  The thing with this variety is that you need a newly bred one for optimum yields, otherwise replanting the harvested one wont give you higher yields,”says Wafula.

And in an area with a growing demand for cereals, thanks to solid inter border trade  between Kenya and Uganda, the farmers are gaining an upper hand in the market due to the unique bean variety.

Kitha Bitutu who has now been farming the new variety for the last year says a kilo goes for Sh150 compared to a kilo of traditional beans that go for between Sh80-Sh100. Bitutu argues that the texture, appealing colour and taste of the bean is its unique selling point. “And am proud i was one of the farmers who the researchers consulted in breeding this wonder bean,”she said.