HarvestPlus began work with partners in Tanzania in 2019, with the goal of increasing production of biofortified staple crops by smallholder farming households and linking them to potential markets for their surplus harvest—including schools that provide daily meals to their students. 

The ultimate objective is to improve nutrition and health outcomes for rural children as well as their families, while generating new livelihood opportunities for farming households. The focus in Tanzania has been on promotion of iron-biofortified beans, which provide children as well as women of reproductive age (WRA) with up to 80 percent of their iron needs when eaten regularly.

This is potentially a game changer in a country where an estimated 58 percent of children ages 6-59 months and 45 percent of WRA are anemic; iron deficiency is a leading cause of anemia. However, the first step in scaling iron bean production was to ensure sufficient supply of biofortified seed for farmers to grow, specifically for two iron-biofortified climbing bean varieties which were first released in 2018: MAC44 (Selian 14) and RWV1129 (Selian 15).

Ramping up seed breeding efforts

Our recent work on scaling iron beans in Tanzania has been through the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops Programme, which HarvestPlus co-leads with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). CBC is funded by the Government of the Netherlands and the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development.

HarvestPlus staff first visited the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), which oversees seed breeding efforts in the country. A conversation with TARI legume breeder Nestory Shida revealed that supplies were indeed lacking: official production of “early generation seed” (EGS), which seed companies use as their basic feedstock for multiplication, totaled less than 200 kilograms (kgs) for each variety, and commercial multiplication of these varieties was effectively stalled. The HarvestPlus crop breeding experts had work to do with TARI to boost this output.    

Fast forward to 2022: the availability of iron bean EGS has increased more than 10-fold, and two leading seed companies are now actively investing in multiplying climbing iron bean varieties. At this level of EGS output, we estimate that about 1 percent of the country’s total bean production will likely be biofortified beans by 2024, laying the foundation for rapid scaling from then on.

Happy Sikalengo, CEO of one of the seed companies, Reita Agrosciences Ltd, expressed excitement about the opportunity to trade in these nutritious beans. “We are very interested in Selian 15,” he said. Zablon Mbwaga, CEO of the other seed concern, Beula Seed Company, said they have already initiated investment in producing the climbing bean varieties, as well as a bush bean variety. 

Building farmer awareness

These companies are primarily responding to farmer awareness and demand that HarvestPlus and its local partners have catalyzed. These efforts include demonstration plots run at schools and on farms, as well as “field days” for farmers and potential bean buyers. The seed companies also received support in creating marketing strategies, including packaging materials and design, brand positioning, and providing training and other support to their agro-dealer clients.

An iron bean field day with partner Clinton Development Initiative

Beyond the climbing beans’ nutritional value, farmers like their demonstrated high yield relative to non-biofortified varieties, drought tolerance, and resistance to the common problem of bean rot during periods of intense rainfall.

In Iringa district, HarvestPlus has been working with the Clinton Development Initiative to promote iron beans among farming households and their purchase by schools. Willium Gilingai, a lead farmer in Kilolo district engaged by CDI, said, “Heavy rainfall this season affected the growth and performance of other bean varieties which totally failed. The high iron bean varieties showed good tolerance to rains and fungal diseases, so they are a savior for this season.”

Awareness-raising events also translate into profitable post-harvest market linkages for farmers. For example, Mr. Mistry Kibodi, the principal of the Maria Consolata School in Iringa, attended a field day on July 29, 2022, that was co-organized with CDI. Kibodi decided to spend the equivalent of USD $3,200 for 9 metric tons of Selian 15 climbing beans from exhibiting farmers, which he will incorporate in the school’s meals program for its pupils.

Providing options to seed companies

To be sure, not all Tanzanian seed companies are willing or financially able to invest in producing climbing beans, so HarvestPlus and TARI also have been promoting a variety of bush bean, TARI bean 06, which was imported from Rwanda and released in 2020. Bush beans, as the name implies, grow like bushes, and thus do not need vine stakes. While climbing beans yield is as much as 2-3 times more than bush beans, not all farmers are willing or able to make the investment in stakes for climbing beans.

In 2021, Syova Seed T LTD pioneered commercial production of TARI Bean 06. “This variety will become a flagship product in the future,” said Prati Shah, Marketing Coordinator at Syova seed. “The variety is good and nutritious, and we are always looking for varieties,” she said.

Syova started commercial seed production with a fairly modest 100 kgs of basic seed received from TARI as part of the TARI-HarvestPlus collaboration. After two production seasons, the company is laying the groundwork to market at least 10 metric tons of seed during the September 2022 rainy season. ‘

“We are now in seven regions, and my measure of success is that in five years, TARI bean 06 will be a normal product, known by all farmers and agro-dealers countrywide,” said Prati. “In addition to selling the seed in our own shops in Mwanza, Mbeya, and Arusha, we will work with at least 10 agro- dealers in each region.”

Working on demand, including from schools

This work continues with local partners to help fulfill a Tanzanian Government policy to include biofortified crops in school feeding programs. While the seed value chain is now functioning well, efforts continue on awareness raising and demand creation among school food procurement players; improved grain production and aggregation to consistently to meet demand from school feeding programs; and better grain quality control.

Contact Penina Muoki for more information about working with HarvestPlus in Tanzania and East Africa more broadly: [email protected].