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Partnering to provide protein with precooked beans

September 7, 2021
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The Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) is a ten-year, CA$35 million partnership (AUD$37 million) between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). CultiAF funds applied research aimed at improving food security, resilience, and gender equality across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Beans are an important source of protein, especially for low- and middle-income households, but consumption is limited by the high energy and water requirements for cooking beans as well as the long preparation time. In addition, the fuels used for cooking – usually firewood for rural people and charcoal in urban areas – are a direct cause of deforestation. In recent years, the rapid expansion of urban populations, rising incomes, and the high cost of energy have fuelled the demand for fast-cooking processed foods.  

With the aim of improving food and nutrition security, income generation, and environmental conservation, the precooked-beans project has worked to promote uptake of precooked beans and their products, and leverage public-private partnerships in Kenya and Uganda. It is supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF), a 10-year partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. The project’s first phase produced high-iron and zinc bio-fortified bean varieties that can be processed into precooked beans that cook in 10 minutes, rather than the 2-3 hours previously required. In total, more than 10,139 tonnes of seed of improved bean varieties were produced over a period of two years and used by more than 10,000 farmers (50% women). In addition, women, men and youth underwent training in good agricultural practices.  

Outcomes  

Scaling up 

The initiative’s second phase (2018–2021) has focused on scaling, with growth from one to five products, and from one bean-processing company to five, as well as the expansion of grain production to 15 districts in each country – up from 10 and four districts in Uganda and Kenya, respectively. Two factories with a capacity to process at least 15 tonnes of precooked beans per day have been built and certified in Kenya. 

The five products developed in the second phase are: a quick cooking bean; a ready-to-eat bean snack bar; quick-cooking bean flour; bean noodles; as well as bean “chunks” – an ingredient used in making bread and flour. This product is currently being tested by potential users, including Ugandan and Kenyan confectionary companies, prior to its certification by the Kenya Bureau of Standards. 

Public-private partnerships  

The project’s engagement with more than 20 partners has enabled scaling and been beneficial to investors, producers and consumers alike. These public-private partnerships (PPPs) have seen the development of: 1) financing mechanisms that ”de-risk” investors and provide access to finance for producers; 2) seed-delivery models to scale access of the improved bean seed to farmers and foster steady seed supply for the next three seasons; 3) a bean-processing model through which grain is purchased directly from farmers in both Kenya and Uganda and processed into precooked-bean products, which are supplied to three hospitals, five supermarkets, 11 schools, 12 small food kiosks, and 37 roadside food vendors in Kenya; and 4) new product ranges such as chunks.  

Gender-empowerment framework 

The precooked-beans project is using informed research results to address gender inequality in value chains and communities. One of the gender-focused initiatives being implemented in Uganda is the development of a digital-payment system through which farmers receive their earnings directly. Using a mobile app, developed in partnership with Mastercard, female farmers can access their payment without involving their husbands. This system thereby empowers women as autonomous business owners, enabling them to register businesses in their own name, in their own right, and to access their profits independently in order to make decisions as to how they will use the money they earn. 

Women are also benefiting from the project’s initiative to supply seeds of improved bean varieties to local farmers and provide training in good agronomy practices and improved financial management. Since the launch of the app in November 2018, the project has recruited and trained 52 Village Enterprise Agents (VEAs) – mostly youths (60%) – 15 of whom have been provided with android phones to carry out transactions with the farmers. To date, with VEA support, 18,466 farmers (7,572 men and 10,894 women) have been registered with the app to enhance digital payments. A total of CA$137,000 has been traded in beans through the platform. 

Conclusions 

The precooked-beans initiative has made progress in all the intended areas: food and nutrition security, income generation, and environmental conservation. Producers have greater access to improved bean varieties, resulting in greater quantities of this protein source in communities. As a result of bio-fortification with iron and zinc, the nutritional value of the beans has improved. Furthermore, communities are now able to produce beans for a more stable livelihood.  

PPPs have enabled vulnerable producers, namely women, to achieve greater security and independence over their profits, such as through the digitized process of farmer registration and produce payments. Lastly, the products developed through this initiative, specifically the fast-cooking bean product, reduce the amount of water, fuel, and energy previously required to prepare beans, making this food source more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. 

Moving forward, the precooked-beans initiative hopes to deploy more partnerships to help scale the products beyond Kenya and Uganda to seven additional countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa regions with a view to expanding its positive impact. The team also aims to make pre-cooking represent at least 10% of dry-bean processing to reduce energy use and increase the consumption of these products, especially in urban areas. 

Research highlights

  • The project has engaged more than 20 partners to scale out the benefits to local producers, including governments in Kenya and Uganda, banks, development partners, NGOs, and other private-sector investors.  

  • The initiative has scaled up from one processor to five processors, and production of the precooked beans has expanded into 15 new districts in each of the two countries. 

  • Of the producers that have engaged with the project and its partners, 68% saw a significant improvement in their income as a result of their participation in the project.  

  • 18,466 farmers (7,572 men and 10,894 women) have been registered for a mobile phone-based digital-payments application, which ensures that the farmer receives the payment for their grain delivery.