The first harvest of bio-fortified beans supplied to 30 farmers in southeastern Nicaragua by Self-Help International is showing high yields rarely experienced here.
Distribution of the bio-fortified beans by Self-Help, a Waverly, Iowa-based nonprofit, began a new chapter in the agricultural development programs of the 61-year-old organization when, on Nov. 12, Self-Help distributed 450 pounds of seed beans that have been bio-fortified with extra iron and zinc.
Each of the 30 farmer-members of the Los Chiles cooperative received 15 pounds of beans for planting. The cooperating farmers agreed to return 30 pounds of beans to Self-Help after harvest so the improved nutrition supplied by the beans can be shared by more communities.
An additional 50 pounds of the bio-fortified beans, which are named “Rendidor” in Spanish, have been planted on two Self-Help demonstration and experimental plots.
Farmers who planted the beans are now harvesting them and yields are reported to be far larger than the traditional bean varieties that have been planted previously by Nicaragua’s farmers.
Helping others help themselves has been a guiding principle of Self-Help since its founding in 1959. At the insistence of Iowa native, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize founder Norman Borlaug, Self-Help has been assisting small farmers and their families in Ghana since 1982 and in Nicaragua since 1999.
Self-Help assists farmers and rural residents in Ghana and Nicaragua increase the quantity and quality of the crops they grow, provides small loans to boost entrepreneurial endeavors, and improves the quality of local water supplies that has helped eliminate water-borne diseases.
The Rendidor bio-fortified beans represent the first new crop introduced by Self-Help Nicaragua since 1999, when Self-Help began working in Nicaragua by planting Quality Protein Maize (QPM), a high-protein corn variety that was developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.
QPM has 90% of the protein found in skim milk, which makes it an ideal way for people, especially children, to get a higher intake of protein when they consume tortillas and other corn-based food products made from QPM. QPM also yields more per acre and people say they like its taste.
The new bio-fortified bean seeds that have been distributed by Self-Help will expand the organization’s mission to provide farmers and consumers with an improved diet. Rendidor beans contain 60% more iron (86 parts per million) and 50% more zinc (43 ppm) compared to the traditional bean varieties (frijoles criollos) grown in Nicaragua. The improved nutritional content of the bio-fortified beans has been confirmed in nutritional studies, according to the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology, which sold the 500 pounds of Rendidor bean seeds to Self-Help.
This year, Self-Help also will distribute bio-fortified rice to its cooperating farmers to strengthen its mission of addressing hunger and malnutrition among the most vulnerable people living in both urban and rural areas.
Nicaraguan families typically consume a diet of rice, beans and corn (in the form of tortillas and other corn-based foods like tamales and nacatamales). In Nicaragua, a popular saying is, "Full stomach, happy heart." But there also is a hidden problem of malnutrition in people who are overweight because of their excessive consumption of carbohydrates, fats and table salt that fills stomachs, but doesn’t provide proper nourishment. Women, children and the elderly who do not receive the micronutrients they need to lead healthy and productive lives are especially affected by the scarcity in the quantity and quality of food.
Because Self-Help is adding bio-fortified rice and beans to the QPM corn on Nicaraguans’ plates, people who have not been able to have an adequately nutritious diet will now have food that is rich in protein, fiber and essential micronutrients.
Bio-fortified beans development
The bio-fortified beans have been developed at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, a nonprofit that conducts agricultural research as one of CGIAR’s 15 center members. CGIAR is the world’s largest partnership of ag research-for-development organizations.
Also involved in the project is HarvestPlus, which is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. HarvestPlus is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that seeks to improve nutrition and public health by developing and promoting bio-fortified food crops.
The Rendidor beans have been bred to flourish in humid tropical climates like that of southeastern Nicaragua. The architecture of the plants grown from Rendidor seeds is open to help the beans resist fungal diseases by allowing the entry of light and ventilation among the foliage and to control weeds, pests and diseases.
Another important feature is the thick pod, which makes it impermeable to heavy rains so that the beans inside the pod aren’t damaged by fungi, nor do they germinate inside the pod. This helps maintain high yields and bean quality.
Self-Help provides agronomic advice to its cooperating farmers, which ensures that the new bean variety will respond with its maximum yield potential.
It is expected that the 15 pounds of Rendidor beans given to each cooperating farmer will produce an average total yield of 700 pounds. If the 700 pounds of beans are, in fact, harvested, each family will be able to keep 300 pounds of beans, which is enough to feed a family of six for a year.
In addition, farmers will have 200 pounds of beans for the next planting cycle in November, which will leave 170 pounds of the beans for marketing, minus the 30 pounds of seed returned to Self-Help.
Isidro Aguilar Andino, president of the Los Chiles Cooperative, said of the bio-fortified beans: “It is a good opportunity to sow a nutritious food for our families. The yields will vary depending on the care and management that each farmer gives his crop. In my case, my family consumes 200 pounds of beans a year. There are four of us living in our home and sometimes my other children visit us on the weekend. I also will save some seed for planting in 2020. I want to try this bean to see if we like it. If the soup that is made from the Rendidor beans is good, it will stay in my house and we will consume it. Everything will depend if we all like it.”
Solis is country director of Self-Help Nicaragua and Perkins is a member of the board of directors of Self-Help International.