Several Rwandans compare eating beans to eating chicken. This is linked to the fact that beans are the traditional staple food in Rwanda. That is not all, more rural farmers are finding confidence in growing the vegetable because they have reaped plenty a harvest.
Augustine Musoni, a bean farmer and expert with Rwanda Agriculture Research Institute (ISAR) says that beans are very healthy.
“Beans are scientifically regarded as a near-complete food and considered as ‘chicken for the poor’. Beans are consumed in a range of recipes as green or dry grain, leafy or pod (snap) vegetables, or as processed and blended products.”
According to research conducted by ISAR, the consumption of beans in Africa is 60 kg per capita—three times more than the world average of about 17 kg.
Musoni says that in Rwanda beans are 65 percent of all dietary proteins.
“Beans have no cholesterol and are rich in fibers, iron, zinc and vitamins,” he adds.
Climbing beans were adopted in Rwanda as a way of facilitating farmers to yield high produce.
Musoni says that the growing of these beans has been successful because they use less space and yield more than bush beans.
Climbing and bush beans grown and eaten today have been the same since 10,000 years ago. They were brought to Rwanda by Arab traders and missionaries between 300 to 400 years ago. Its ancestors came from somewhere in the wild forests of South America.
“It learned to climb because it had to compete for light, air, physical protection and space. This would help it survive among other wild plants of the thick forests. It had slender stems, many leafy branches and tendrils or twinning tips, literally known as ‘urugoye’,” says Alexandre Twizeyimana, an agriculture expert in Nyagatare district.
Local climbing beans became more established in the northern highlands of the current Musanze and Rubavu districts that had similar wet and cool environments as their ancestral home in Latin America.
Besides differences in height while in the field, climbing and bush beans are similar in seed colour, size, texture, nutritional value and taste.
Farmers and consumers in the country believe that climbing beans not only yield higher, but are also tastier.
This reflects in rich traditional names farmers give to some of the climbing bean varieties: Vuninkingi (too-heavy-for-the-stake-to-bear), Ngwinurare (for visitors: eat-it-to-stay-longer), Kiryumukwe (for most respected visitors and in-laws), Nyiramata (of milk value), Mamesa (popular coconut cooking oil), Umubano mwiza (enhancing cooperation and good neighborhood), Mavuta (oily: needs no spicing), Gitego (a crucial goal), Munyu (salty) and Mwirasi (prestigious).
Claudine Nyiratabaro is a local climbing beans farmer in Mimuli sector of Nyagatare district. When she talks about profits reaped from climbing beans farming, everyone gets eager to imitate the profession.
“At first we received seeds from ISAR officials who trained us on effective planting techniques. The first harvest was beyond my expectation,” she says.
Nyiratabaro, a mother of seven says that climbing beans business has earned her the capacity to fence her family and other basic needs.
“I grow climbing beans on half a hectare of land. With an input less than Rwf60, 000 I can pick revenue worth over Rwf500, 000. This is the net profit I get from this business and I want to increase production,” says a jovial looking farmer.
Providing food security to the country
Research proved that beans especially climbing beans have potential in easing malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty among Rwandans.
“Climbing beans have a 3 to 4 time greater yield than that of the bush beans in fields of our institute,” explains Musoni.
In many parts of Nyagatare district and the Northern districts of Gicumbi and Rulindo, progressive farmers realize similar yields by using improved varieties and good crop management.
Climbing beans are more suited for intensified production in small fields. With this higher productivity, climbing beans save land for growing other crops.
Research proved that by replacing 10,000 square metres of bush beans with the climbing type produces about 2000 kg extra yield.
The downside of the climbing beans is the cost of the stakes.
According to agriculture experts, it requires 50,000 wood stakes for 10,000 square metres of beans. A wood stake can cost between Rwf5 to 20, depending on the area and type of stakes.
“Farmers tend to cut costs by using cheap poor quality stakes which can reduce their profits,” said Jean Pierre Habera, an agronomist in Nyagatare district.
“Recently, new stakes were developed combining wood with sisal, banana codes, knitting thread and wire. That reduces the use of wood and cuts the price by about 70 percent,” he adds.
The labour for staking is not a big issue as the farmers have enough manpower in their large families.