New bean varieties keep wildlife away from farms

A farmer at his farm in Kapkwen in Chepalungu District. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has developed drought-resistant bean varieties for growers in the South Rift. Photo/Geoffery Rono

A new bean technology is proving to be a simple innovation to keep wildlife away from the farms.

Grazers such as antelopes are said to dislike the taste of the four new varieties’ foliage compared to traditional legumes grown by farmers in the South Rift.

According to Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari)-Katumani, which developed the four varieties — KATB1, KATB9, KATX56, KATX69 — the beans also mature early, reducing the length of time they are likely to be in contact with wildlife.

“The beans can do well even with little rainfall,” says Dr David Karanja, co-ordinator of the green legume project at Kari-Katumani. “This helps in eluding wildlife feeding patterns.”

A study by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) indicates that human-wildlife conflict peaks in April and July, a period when crops are said to be doing well on farms. The latest fact sheet by KWS says 5,495 cases of crop damage by wildlife were recorded between 2010 and last year.

South Rift is particularly vulnerable because of its location where the wildebeest migratory corridor cuts through in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and is also an agricultural region famous for wheat, barley, maize and livestock farming.

Of Late, however, climate change and human-wildlife conflict are a growing challenge to agriculture, affecting mostly small-scale growers.

“Farmers have also been encountering losses because traditional legumes cannot withstand the changing weather hence the need to introduce the new varieties,” says Dr Karanja, who is also the principal investigator in the project.

He says that the beans are drought tolerant, mature early and yield twice as much as the traditional ones also known as ‘ruling’ varieties.
For instance, says Dr Karanja, it takes a month for the new varieties to flower after germination ready to harvest within 65 days.

The ‘ruling’ varieties like the Mexican 142, which was bred in 1952 take 90 days to flower while farmers have to wait for 120 days before the legumes mature, he says.

Kari-Katumani collaborated with the Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development and other partners to breed the new varieties.

Farmers are organised into groups to access the new varieties, costing Sh20 at local seed retail outlets in small packages.

“The small pack approach allows farmers to experiment the beans on their farms since it is cheap,” says Job Dan Sirari, a senior district officer facilitator at CLUSA Kenya, an NGO which advocates co-operative development among small-scale farmers.

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