The $15 million project that is being conducted in Kenya and Uganda is set to impact in a number of ways on farmers and consumers across the East African region.
“As opposed to 2 hours with traditional unprocessed dry beans, the new precooked products will take 15 minutes to cook,” Dr. Michael Ugen, a researcher from Kenyan from National Agricultural Research Organisation (KALRO) said.
Ugen noted that this significant reduction in time will not only have beneficial impacts on the environment and urban and rural household finances with less fuel being used, but also on men and women’s decision-making and time allocation within households.
“To create a successful value chain from seed to supermarket shelf, we are engaging farmers to produce the beans, private sector processors for product development, as well as working with local supermarkets, agricultural extension workers and local government,” Ugen said.
To date, 47 bean varieties (15 from Kenya and 32 from Uganda) have been screened and 17 selected for further evaluation and product prototype development.
In Uganda, 10 of the 17 initial varieties have been selected for seed production so that farmers can grow these suitable beans on a commercial scale for processing.
In East Africa, bean production is mostly carried out by small-scale farmers with only 0.4 to 0.8 hectares of land per family.
Under the project, 7,000 farming families have already been selected to participate in the project (3,000 from Kenya and 4,000 from Uganda) that will provide training in better agronomic practices to produce bean varieties for processing into quick-cooking and ready to eat bean products.
The groups are registered with local government authorities and are able to develop stronger business relationships with the private sector than as individuals.
“We are also introducing farmer groups to local government, extension workers and microfinance institutions – those who, in the long-run, can help support a sustainable quick-cooking and ready to eat bean market,” Ugen, who is also the principal investigator for the project revealed.
She however said that they are in the process of ensuring that farmers have the seeds to cultivate in order to produce enough precooked beans to meet processing demand from private sector partners.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how farmers groups progress and take advantage of the commercial opportunity presented with bean processing from grains into these quick-cooking and ready to eat products,” she added.
Beans are an important staple food in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural areas of Eastern Africa.
One of the biggest limiting factors to bean consumption is the time required to cook them and, consequently, the amount of fuel or firewood required for cooking.
However, an innovative project, with High in fibre, protein, complex carbohydrates, folic acid, iron and zinc – beans are great for enriching diets, especially for pregnant women and growing children.
But in rural areas, firewood for cooking is time-consuming to collect and, in urban areas, charcoal is expensive.
By engaging farmers and the private sector to introduce a range of quick-cooking and ready to eat bean products to suit different consumers in rural and urban in East African beans.
Given that the responsibility of collecting firewood and cooking falls to women and children, this new variety will contribute in reducing the time needed to prepare beans and collect the fuel hence leaving valuable time for women for other important activities.
“We are set to offer a range of products with a single core ingredient that is available in different pack sizes and sometimes even modify the branding to appeal to our different consumer groups,” Joab Ouma, a Ugandan commercial agro-processor said.
He said that his form will develop prototype products and package them for market testing.
Ouma observed that catering to diverse consumers is a new concept that marketers are up against, but it a challenge they are embracing.
According to Ugen, a consumer analysis has been completed and four consumer groups and target markets of focus have so far been identified.
The analysis found out that sustainable middle urban consumers are preferring quick-cooking and ready to eat beans mixed with sauces, such as tomato, which are easily cooked and ready-to-eat within minutes.
Vulnerable middle and bottom-end consumer groups, which tend to be more rural households, prefer plain, wet quick-cooking beans to decide how best to prepare them. The top-end and travelling consumers prefer ready-to-go nutritious snack products.