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September 07, 2008

Kenya seeks increased production of beans

It has become increasingly common for Kenya to import beans as domestic demand overwhelms production.

The country consumes approximately 450,000 tonnes of beans against a local production level of between 150,000 and 200,000 tonnes harvested from about 800,000 hectares. The country imports the deficit mainly from Uganda, Tanzania and Central Africa.

But researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and local universities have been coming up with high yield bean varieties that are well adapted to local conditions and effects of land pressure.

“This variety is suited for farmers with little land, but in need of boosting their bean harvest and food security. It is also suited for urban farmers as Kenyans troop to live in tiny plots in towns”, asserted Daniel Anampiu, a senior technician with Kari, at a recent field day at the Embu research station.

As Mr Anampiu puts it, the climbing bean variety MAC 64- developed by Kari is high yielding, producing over four times more than other local varieties. Local varieties include Rose coco, Mwezi Moja and Wairimu. They are also able to adapt well to a variety of climatic conditions, land pressure, diseases and pests. According to farmers, the major insect pests of beans are aphids, cutworms and bean stem maggots. Diseases include bean mosaic viruses, blight, leaf rust, root rots, anthracnose and angular leaf spot.

The beans are staked on poles and can reach a height of six metres and produce one to 1.4 kg of beans per plant. Farmers only need a ‘handful’ of manure and teaspoonful of phosphate fertilizer at planting time, according to Anampiu. A spacing of 75 cm by 30 cm has been found economically viable by researchers at the station.

But a challenge to farmers comes in the form of poles, some as high as six metres. While in some areas, ants would devour the posts. In such cases, Anampiu recommends that farmers may instead use the wire and string combination to hang the twinning beans.

“One iron wire can be supported by locally available strings as it will save farmers overall costs and improve margins just as is done with passion fruits”, he added.

Beyond the seeds harvested at the end of the cycle, the beans also provide green leaves- used as vegetable across the country, fix nitrogen into the soil enriching it, while the dried stems can be used as livestock hay.

“Such beans would be suitable to be grown in our area where land size is diminished as needs rise. A few seeds are sure to produce enough harvest for the family”, said Jane Wanjira, from Siakago in Embu.

Meanwhile, Egerton University —Kenya’s premier agricultural institution — has developed new bean varieties ready for release to farmers. The varieties, ECABOO81 (Ciankui), AFR 708 (Chelang) and Lyamungu-85, are reported to yield three times more than other varieties.

According to lead researcher Prof Ellis Mbaka, the varieties can yield 7.5 to 10 bags per acre under farm trials. This is against the national average bean production of two to 2.5 bags per acre.

Business Daily Africa

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