At a factory in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, workers steam-cook beans in big metal containers, before cooling and packaging them for sale. The beans can be reheated in 15 minutes or less, requiring far less firewood than the two to three hours it would take to cook them from scratch.
This public-private initiative, being tested in Uganda and Kenya with funding from Canada’s International Development Research Centre, also aims to increase bean consumption, improve diets, and create a more profitable market for bean farmers.
According to Joab Ouma of Lasting Solutions, a Ugandan company that is involved in preparing the beans, rural people usually use firewood for cooking, while charcoal is the main fuel in urban areas. Those fuels are a direct cause of deforestation, yet until now the poorest consumers “had no choice” but to use them, but with the pre-cooked beans, the time needed to cook meals is greatly reduced, lowering the use of charcoal and firewood – and potentially easing the pressure on forests.
The C$2.65 million ($1.99 million) project – whose first phase began in October 2014 and ends next March – is being implemented by Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation and Kenya’s Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.
Ouma said a survey in Uganda showed an average family consumed about 12 kg of beans per month, requiring around 288 kg of charcoal per year to cook them. The project, targeting a sample of 10,000 households in Kenya and 7,000 in Uganda, should prevent some 400,000 kg of charcoal being burned per year, he added. “This is a big impact on deforestation,” he said, “It also saves costs, because the extra money saved on fuel can be used to purchase other household essentials,” he said. In addition, it frees up women to spend more time with their children.
At the start of the project, researchers screened 47 bean varieties to determine which would be suitable for pre-cooking. Companies and community seed producers were then engaged to produce an adequate supply of the selected seeds, and promote them to farmers, who were trained in field and post-harvest management.
Two private-sector partners – Lasting Solutions in Uganda and Del Monte Kenya – have developed prototype products and packaging for market testing. So far, two bean products are available: a salted ready-to-eat snack, and the pre-cooked, packaged beans for reheating. They are due to be launched by the end of this month, for sale in supermarkets and grocery stores. Once consumer demand for the product has been created, equipment to scale up production will be introduced in Uganda and Kenya, Ouma said.
There also plans to expand the initiative across Africa by supporting the development of value chains for pre-cooked beans. Work will begin in Tanzania and Ethiopia in March 2017, and will then be rolled out in Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana and the Sahel region.