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When you are 112 years old, a nutritious diet is paramount.
But Tei Mukunya was struggling to find nutrient-rich, easily digestible foods that would nourish her centenarian grandmother sufficiently, as most flours were made from maize. Tei had spotted a gap in the market.
Using her food brand Azuri Health, which has been steadily growing since its inception in 2010, she worked with womens’ groups to produce a new product – a“nutri-porridge” flour made from beans and amaranth. The flour was launched to market in Nairobi in August.
Since the United Nations championed pulses in its International Year of Pulses in 2016, the health benefits of beans have become more widely known. Low in fat and high in protein, beans can offer an affordable alternative to meat products in the developing world.
The bean market has grown into a multi-million-dollar industry, turning the humble bean from a neglected staple into a cash crop in Africa. In Ethiopia alone, 3 million farmers are producing the white beans commonly used to make baked beans, with annual exports reaching $90 million.
At the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), we are looking for ways to ensure African farmers can capitalise on this boom, empowering the women who have traditionally grown the crop to share in the growth and rewards.
Equipping entrepreneurs like Tei with the technology to add value to the raw commodity and create a new product for African consumers is a good place to start.
She is testing the first of eight solar-powered “bubble” driers to be installed in Kenya and Uganda, as part of a project supported by the German government, to fight malnutrition among 50,000 rural and urban consumers.
During harvest time, all too often rain can damage crops as they dry. The driers help retain bean quality and commercial value, as well as all the nutritious qualities, before they are turned into a porridge flour.
YIELDS & PROFITS RISE
Azuri Health and its consumers won’t be the only ones benefitting when the nutri-porridge hits the shelves. Five hundred farmers growing improved high-yielding beans, supplied by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization, are set to see their profits double.
“Usually we sell one bag of beans for $34, but Azuri Ltd. have promised us $58,” says farmer Joseph Kamoing. “The extra income will help buy fertilizer for next season and pay school fees.”
In addition to having a guaranteed market, these farmers are also seeing higher yields. Using local bean varieties, they used to get two to three bags of beans per harvest. Now, it’s up to seven or eight.
Tei has her sights set on exporting as well. She has already received calls from buyers interested in the nutri-porridge, and is in the process of setting up the rigorous standards required to enter the European market.
"People are busy, and convenient foods are not always nutritious,” says Tei. “Our products are aimed at those who want an affordable, healthy product, that doesn’t take much time to prepare.”
"My grandmother really noticed the difference, and felt much better. It showed me that nutritious food can have such a big impact on people’s lives,” she added.
At the African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali this month, Tei and entrepreneurs like her shared this vision of how smallholder farmers can become thriving agribusinesses.
Her story is a perfect example of how investments along the whole agricultural value chain – from improved seeds to post-harvesting technologies - can build resilient food systems in Africa. And how putting women at the forefront of these ventures can ensure the resulting economic growth is inclusive.
Farmers can be sceptical of bulk-selling products to companies, but stories such as this can deepen trust, resulting in a triple win for farmers, African agribusinesses and consumers.
Dr Robin Buruchara is director of the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance.