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ELEVATING THE COMMON BEAN

Gerardine Mukeshimana
Doctoral Student and Research Assistant, Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology

Beans are an important component of Rwanda’s farming system, occupying 30 percent of the land suitable for agriculture. The country is the largest bean consumer in the world, with an annual per capita consumption of about 60 kilograms, while the African average per capita consumption is 17 kilograms.

Beans are a highly nutritious source of vitamins, fiber, and micronutrients, including iron and zinc, which are needed for normal growth and function. They are found in everyday Rwandan dishes, eaten with other sources of carbohydrates, such as root and cereal crops, to provide balanced meals and healthy diets to millions of Rwandans.

Through MSU’s bean breeding program, I was able to integrate my PhD research project on breeding for drought tolerance in common beans with other bean breeding aspects of the Rwanda Agriculture Board’s bean program.

My research was conducted in eastern regions of Rwanda where drought is an endemic constraint to bean production. I was fortunate to interact with many men and women bean farmers, learn about their specific interest in beans, and help them understand the benefits associated with integrating beans into their diets.

Introducing dry bean varieties that combine high-yielding, high-nutrition attributes and resistance to multiple stresses is key to addressing food security and malnutrition issues in Rwanda. Traditionally, beans have been a crop grown by women for home consumption, but it is amazing to see how the crop is evolving to become a cash crop that is putting considerable amounts of money in farmers’ pockets.

Molecular biology techniques have become important tools in plant breeding. I am very happy that through the project I was able to assist the bean program in getting access to the needed equipment and to help train staff in molecular breeding techniques. I hope that soon the breeding program will be able to integrate both conventional and molecular techniques to improve bean varieties that are responding to the needs of farmers in Rwanda.