PABRA: Agricultural transformation in Ethiopia and beyond

29 April, 2013 by (comments)

Published in the new CIAT Annual report 2012-2013.

There is a revolution taking place in East Africa. At its center, lies the humble white pea bean – and a market-led approach that is transforming agriculture, stirring institutional change, and stimulating economic growth.

Ethiopia white beanAt Tuka Langano village in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, Milko Bati sits on her veranda. She used to live a hand-to-mouth existence, barely able to grow enough food to feed her seven children, let alone send them to school. Today, her children are at the top of their class; she has built a new two-room home complete with an iron sheet roof; and she has expanded her 2-hectare farm to include oxen, donkeys, cows, sheep, and goats – all thanks to beans.

Milko’s story is not unique. She is one of thousands of smallholder farmers who switched to improved white pea bean varieties, kick-starting the evolution of Ethiopia’s bean industry into a US$50 million – and growing – export business.

Laying the building blocks

Before 2004, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), in partnership with CIAT under the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), developed high-yielding bean varieties suitable for Ethiopia’s diverse growing conditions and released them. The beans were well received by farmers, but the normal channels through which seeds were disseminated couldn’t even meet 1% of farmers seed needs.

Kidane Tumsa, head of the Ethiopian National Bean Research Program (ENBRP) at EIAR explains: “While the market was demanding better quality beans, most farmers were still growing poor-quality, lowyielding beans and using poor crop management practices. What farmers needed was support to grow good quality produce more efficiently. Improving access to seed wasn’t enough; we also had to address the bottlenecks along the value chain.”

In collaboration with CIAT, EIAR formed a partnership with all the players in the bean industry, including farmers, research institutes, grain traders, community associations, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), seed producers, and policy makers. Together they identified the major obstacles preventing growth in the industry – including limited access to improved bean seed – and decided to take joint responsibility for developing the sector.

A partnership for change

As the bottlenecks to seed production and distribution were removed, the ENBRP started working with NGOs and farmer cooperatives to promote good agronomic practices, such as adequate planting density and timely weeding. The partnership then began developing links between farmers and grain buyers, which helped to stabilize previously volatile prices.

From there, the ENBRP engaged with policy makers, who, recognizing that beans could benefit farmers, traders, and the country, listed them on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, guaranteeing farmers the international market price for their beans.

Between 2004 and 2012, the area of land used for growing beans in Ethiopia increased from 181,600 to 330,000 hectares, and bean production more than tripled to 387,000 tons per year. Similarly, average yields increased from 0.62 tons per hectare to 1.5 tons; farmers increased their income (more than sixfold) from US$120 per ton of beans to $750; and the number of people employed to sort, process, and transport beans quadrupled to 12,000.

Domino effect

The development of Ethiopia’s bean market is just the tip of the iceberg. The approach has been so successful that not only has it been applied to other crops in Ethiopia, including chick pea, wheat, and sorghum, but it’s also spreading to other countries.

Kennedy Muimui, a bean breeder from the Zambia Research Institute, said: “Just 2 years after we released new bean varieties suitable for canning onto the market, the Zambian Government declared that all seed sold by breeders and seed suppliers must be of certified quality – for all agricultural products. By engaging with the government from the outset, we’ve already had a huge effect on Zambia’s agriculture. It’s an amazing outcome. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to develop the industry, but the future is looking very bright.”

Introducing new, improved varieties is only part of the solution to enhancing food security and incomes for Africa’s bean farmers. By looking at the bigger picture and working with partners to embed the strengthening of supply chains into the national agenda, CIAT is helping to create sustainable change, allowing farmers like Milko Bati back in Ethiopia to think about investing in a horse cart next bean season instead of worrying about how she will feed her children.


PABRA is funded by a donor consortium that includes the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

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