Many Kenyans are grappling with food insecurity due to recurrent drought and shrinking farms, but Mrs Beth Wanjiku Njuguna is not one of them.
The farmer in Kiambu has adopted new varieties of climbing beans to replace bush beans, recognising the potential of the new legumes for mass production.
Mrs Njuguna, the wife of Lari MP David Njuguna, spends a lot of time in the farm and does not regret trying out the new seeds.
The beans, she says, were given to her by a friend who had just returned from Rwanda.
She gave them a try and, after some months, farmers in the area started enquiring about them.
The bean plant, she says, grows very fast in most types of soils, with a single plant producing more than 200 pods.
These, according to Mrs Njuguna, can yield close to two kilogrammes of beans.
With only two kilogrammes of the “strange” bean seeds that she got from her friend, Mrs Njuguna is about to harvest four bags from an eight-acre piece of land. And this is just the first season.
“The beans take three months to mature, so you can plant three times a year.
“One plant can yield more than two kilogrammes of beans, making it different from local varieties such as rose coco and Wairimu (haricot), which barely produce 10-20 pods.”
She adds that a farmer can harvest three to four tonnes of beans an acre, in contrast to only one tonne per acre that bush beans yield.
The climbing bean is one of 15 varieties developed by the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR) in collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
It can benefit smallholder farmers in areas with a climate similar to that of Central and East Africa.
Unlike the common “bush beans”, the new varieties are resistant to diseases such as anthracnose, root rot, and ascochyta, which are prevalent in damp, high altitude areas.
Although she has planted the beans in an open space, Mrs Njuguna that says it is recommended that they be planted in green houses since they require a lot of warmth.
The climbing beans grow vertically, instead of spreading out, an attribute that appeals to farmers with limited farm space. “They have a three-to-one yield advantage over bush beans,” she says.
According to an article by Mediaglobal, the first improved climbing beans were introduced to Rwanda in the mid-1980s and were quickly adopted by farmers.
An outbreak of root disease, however, destroyed most of the crop by the late 1990s. This made many farmers to abandon the climbing beans.
A regional programme was started in 2000 to develop a new generation of climbing beans that were disease-resistant and the breeding process led to the new climbing beans.
Lari district agricultural officer Jane Wanjuki says her office has been distributing the seeds to farmers in the area and that the crop was doing well.
She says the Embu branch of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) imports the seeds from Rwanda and improves them before releasing them to farmers.
This is to ensure that they are suited to Kenyan soils and climate. She says the beans do well in warm areas. In cold areas, she adds, the beans are best planted in green houses.
“The beans can do well in most parts of the country and they yield more, compared with bush beans,” she says.