Kenya: As wheat yields fall, farmers turn to beans (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

| May 13, 2013

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For many years, wheat fed Joshua Nyaruri‘s family and kept his income healthy. But lately he has been growing beans, a once-snubbed crop. Throughout the Rift Valley region, beans are growing in popularity.

Mr. Nyaruri has lived in Ole Leshua village in southwest Kenya for 60 years. He grew wheat, one of the most valued cereals in Kenya. But the unpredictable weather, possibly because of climate change, has led to a decline in wheat’s popularity.

He says: “When we expect rain, the dry season continues. When we need the sun to ripen the crop, continuous rains ensure the remaining grain wastes away in the [fields].”

A few farmers still grow wheat in this part of the Rift Valley. Charles Ngare has been growing the crop for almost three decades. He explains that at this time of year, wheat is normally blooming with fresh kernels. He says, “I think the slow maturity is because the rains [are] delayed.”

According to Mr. Nyaruri, many farmers are now switching to crops that can withstand the pressures of climate change, pests and disease. He thinks growing wheat is a waste of effort.

Mr. Nyaruri gave up on wheat five years ago and has no regrets. He is now threshing his bean harvest. He says, “I planted the beans in mid-December last year, and by early March I was harvesting.” He planted two kilograms of a new bean variety, which yielded a harvest of 65 kilograms. The crop took just two-and-a-half months to mature.

The new varieties were developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, also known as KARI. Animal pests appear to dislike them, which means that farmers face fewer pre-harvest losses. KARI scientists say the beans also need much less rainfall.

David Karanja is the coordinator of the green legume project at KARI. He explains that the new varieties need only 30 days from germination to flowering. Older varieties took 90 days. According to Mr. Karanja, the new varieties can yield twice as much as traditional legumes.

The new varieties also cook faster and are more nutritious. These factors endear them to people like Beatrice Kirui. She thinks they are a boost for her family’s diet. The 26-year-old mother of four cradles her four-month-old son and gently feeds him bean porridge outside her shop in Olereut village. She says, “I grind the beans into flour to make porridge. I use less firewood because this type cooks faster than the traditional one.”

As the climate changes in this area, new varieties offer hope for the future. With the beans proving popular with growers and consumers alike, farmers now have a crop which may give them a reliable source of income.