Nutritious, cheap and… convenient? Capitalising on untapped bean markets

Beans are great. They are nutritious, they are cheap and they boost the incomes of smallholder farmers. But, for the vast majority of the estimated 200 million Africans that eat them, I doubt that convenient is a word they would associate with this protein staple.

Dried grains, the most available and affordable bean product, take as many as three hours to cook, which takes a lot of energy, be it wood, electricity or paraffin, and therefore a lot of labour, expense and time for women to prepare. Cooking beans in bulk is out of the question as most families don’t own refrigerators, and, canned beans are a convenience food of the wealthy.

As Eliud Birachi, market specialist from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), says: “If we want to increase the consumption of beans in order to boost nutrition levels and provide markets for smallholder farmers, we must have the consumer in mind.”

So, the question is, how can we put the convenience in to cooking beans?

Ordinarily it’s a question that would be answered by the private sector – where there is demand, there is profit to be made, right? Indeed, many entrepreneurial individuals have picked up on this market opportunity and are raising their incomes by cooking beans in bulk and selling them to their neighbours. But, despite bean sales in East Africa now exceeding US$500 million annually, with an export value of about US$110 million, many private sector businesses still see beans as a subsistence crop.

In Kenya and Uganda things are about to change.

This week (25 to 28 November) a group of researchers, farmers, traders and manufacturers met to launch a new project that is set to answer this very question. Over the next two and a half years this public-private partnership will develop affordable, tasty and long lasting precooked bean products.

Read more on this interesting article here


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