The fortunes of French beans farmers in the country have been raised with the introduction of new varieties that have uniform maturity eliminating the tedious harvesting schedules that comes in stages consequently leading to improved yields and lower costs of production compared conventional bean varieties in the market.
French bean is one of the vegetable crops that is largely grown in Kenya for export market. It is grown by both the small scale and large farmers. “We have French beans for the export market as well as the canning industry. French bean seeds are in several categories. The extra-fine, the fine and the bobby and among the categories, there are several varieties. Each market has its preference so the farmer chooses the category and variety depending on the market or end user requirement,” explained Everlyne Musyoka a Commercial Manger at Amiran.
The new seed varieties in the mechanical harvesting category will help in reducing the high costs of the intensive labour needed for harvesting the crop which will normally take an average of 4 harvests. The mechanical harvested varieties will have high potential yields with the capacity of been harvested once either by use of machines or by using the existing labour force making it easier for growers to plan and project their yields with more accuracy.
According to Everlyn, the introduction of these new varieties of beans is part of a wider and sustained long term demand trends by both growers and consumers as vegetable consumption worldwide increases in volume and the value. “As disposable incomes grow, people are becoming more cautious of the health benefits with vegetables replacing meat and carbohydrates in the diets. This is causing a big evolution in the vegetable sector and opening a platform for increased use of advanced breeding techniques,” explained Everlyn.
She cautions that for most Kenyan farmers to compete for spaces in the international food stores like Tesco, they have to produce high quality products under the most possible lowest costs in order to realize the substantial returns hence the need to adopt better varieties that can compete on an international platform.
Currently vegetable breeders are engaged in ensuring that the sector gets the best seed varieties and they are keenly breeding for all links in the vegetable supply chain. They are looking into several issues like increased yields, disease and pest resistances, shipping and keeping quality, product uniformity, taste, nutritional and health values delivered.
“Amiran Kenya Ltd is in the forefront of ensuring that these various values are delivered to our clients in our product portfolio as a way of ensuring that our growers remain valued and relevant globally in the horticulture sector. As the world population grows, estimated to hit 9billion people by the year 2050, certainly there is much to be done and the global trends in the sector will definitely shift to support this growth,” noted Musyoka.
Part of this growth will be introduction of new varieties that will give very high yields at a very low cost of production such as the mechanical harvested bean varieties The new French bean varieties are currently under multiple location trials and expected to be commercialized by end of the year. The varieties mature within 45 days to 60 days depending on the location and growing periods within the year.
Unlike the other conventional French beans varieties these varieties presents uniform flowering, uniform pod growth as well as uniform maturity. This enables these varieties to be ideal for mechanical or single harvesting. “The crop presents a plant height of 55-60cm, a good developed root system. It is very fleshy and does not show seeds in maturity stage. Equally it has a very good shipping ability and with the aid of the active shelf life extension bags another innovation from Amiran, you are assured of 30 days shelf life,” said Everlyn.
The other conventional beans do not mature uniformly prompting farmers to harvest them in different stages a trait that Everlyn Musyoka noted reduces yield potential and increases the cost of both labour as well as prompting a prolonged use of pesticide sprays.
“If the beans are not maturing uniformly then the farmer will be forced to pay more for labour costs . In addition, during harvesting, the plant is weakened with sustained flower abortion, a fact that contributes to reduced expected yields.”
In case after the first round of harvesting a farmer realizes some disease and pests incidences such as bean rust, then he or she is forced to spray the crops to ensure that he can continue harvesting healthy pods. In the process, the chemical usage goes up hence contributing to higher costs of production as well as limiting the farmers access to international markets considering the strict rules applied when it comes to meeting the maximum residue levels.
Other vegetable crop varieties that are also receiving attention from breeders to improve quality include tomatoes, water melons, onions among others. For instance, there is much efforts being done to breed tomatoes with high content of lycopene .People who have diets rich in tomatoes, which contain lycopene, appear in some studies to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach.
Water melons are being developed to increase firmness, introduce different colours and introduction of smaller sizes of about 2 kilos famously known as the minis which is said to be ideal for the European markets as their family sizes shrink .