Precooked beans: A cost-effective approach to improving nutrition

Fast-cooking beans are saving time and money for low income families in Kenya and Uganda, whilst providing essential nutrients to improve household diets. Their superior qualities in terms of taste and micronutrient level have made them popular among consumers, indicating a profitable market for bean farmers.

Precooked beans will save consumers time and fuel and boost nutrition © Georgina Smith/CIAT

Twelve bean varieties to be processed as precooked beans have been adopted for production among farmers in Kenya and Uganda. Whilst unprocessed beans take around 2 hours to cook, the precooked bean varieties are steam-cooked before sale and can be reheated in just 15 minutes. The fast-cooking beans contain all the nutrients of regular beans, but are saving low income families over 100 minutes of cooking time and fuel expenditure worth €0.47/kg. The public-private initiative is expected to increase bean consumption, improve diets and income generation, and reduce environmental damage by cutting the amount of charcoal and firewood required for cooking.

Beans are a key source of protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients for more than 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. As such, they are a valuable staple in the fight against malnutrition and iron deficiency – the lead cause of anaemia. However, consumption is low due to the long cooking time and high fuel requirements and, in recent years, the rapid expansion of urban populations, rising incomes, and high energy costs have fuelled demand for fast-cooking, processed foods. With funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, researchers have identified the most popular bean varieties among farmers and consumers in the region due to their taste and high levels of protein, as well as key nutrients including calcium, zinc, iron and selenium.

Seed companies and community-based seed producers have been engaged to produce an adequate supply of the selected precooked bean seeds. Models for seed and grain production were tested and now over 10,000 farmers are producing grain to supply a factory with the capacity to process 9 t of precooked beans per day. The initiative has created employment opportunities at various other stages of the bean value chain, including seed and grain bulking, packaging, transportation, and marketing, especially for women and youths. Over 6,000 farmers have also received training in good agronomic practices such as field and post-harvest management.

In addition, a salted, ready-to-eat bean snack has been developed and this, along with the pre-cooked packaged beans, have been taken up by a private sector partner, Lasting Solutions Ltd, for sale in supermarkets and grocery stores. Jemimah Njuki, IDRC senior programme specialist says, “This innovative partnership has combined research and private sector expertise to move the product into market, responding directly to our objective of achieving impact at scale.” Plans to expand the initiative across Africa by supporting the development of precooked bean value chains are to be rolled out in Ghana, Nigeria, the Sahel region and Zambia.

Sophie Reeve & Munyaradzi Makoni

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.