Percy Twebaze is an innovative, goal-driven woman. She is a farmer in Kitagwenda, Uganda, where she leads a resourceful women’s group called Kicheche Women’s Initiative.

Five years ago, she became an iron bean farmer and her life transformed.

Better Crops, Better Nutrition

Beginning with a two kilogram (kgs) promotional bag of iron beans, Twebaze started growing iron beans in 2017 as a smallholder farmer when the USAID Meals for Nutrition Biofortified Solutions in Uganda (MENU) project introduced this nutrient-enriched variety into their home district.

Twebaze was motivated by information received from an agricultural extension worker about the early maturity, high yields, and good nutrition associated with iron beans.

True to form, the iron beans provided greater yields than traditional varieties, and matured 30 days earlier—reducing input needs and increasing opportunities for additional harvests and intercropping. Twebaze was so impressed with her harvest that she took up the next available opportunity to buy additional iron bean seed and expanded her area under the crop, planting 10 kgs.

The whole Kicheche Women’s Initiative adopted the crop and the group now averages a yield of 30-40 metric tons (MT) of iron beans annually. This volume provides them with more iron beans than they need for their households to eat, which enables them to sell their surplus produce to local schools and institutions—bringing benefit to the greater community.

Strengthening Livelihoods and Building a Home and Business

Profiting from increased yields in subsequent seasons, Twebaze continued to sell her surplus produce for added income, which she continually used to expand her area under iron bean cultivation.

Soon, Twebaze was able to start a piggery project, which she has been able to maintain successfully.  Every year Twebaze has expanded her production to meet the increasing demand from schools and institutions for the nutrient-enriched varieties, spurred on by radio messages broadcast by the MENU project.

In 2021, Twebaze alone harvested 8 MT of iron beans.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ensued, it resulted in school closures and limited sales opportunities. Twebaze paid aggregators to safely store her stock of iron beans and sold them when schools re-opened. With the proceeds of approximately USD 5,700 (UGX 20 million), she established a pharmaceutical shop for her son upon completion of his university education and finished renovations on her home.

Resilience Against Shocks

Together with the Kicheche Women’s Initiative, Twebaze began a village savings group where she contributes some of her earnings. The savings groups provides her and the other group members with a safeguard when they face adversity, such as when their crops did not perform as well as expected. 

In the second season of 2022, there was a prolonged dry season that gravely affected farming in their district. Farmers lost up to 50 percent of their crops and inevitably suffered produce and income losses—severely limiting their ability to pay workers or buy seed.

Compounding the challenge, the price traders offered for beans dipped to 20 percent lower in 2022 than 2021, because of traders’ limited ability to transport produce with rising fuel prices.

Twebaze, however, was able to thrive despite reduced profits and procured seed thanks to a loan from her savings group. Many other group members did the same, with the commitment to pay back their loans with interest after the season’s harvest.

Scaling Beans in Uganda

Twebaze’s experience reflects the growing need for agricultural solutions that bring smallholder farmers livelihood benefits and build resiliency in the face of shocks. Iron beans are being scaled up in Uganda to extend their nutritional benefits to additional vulnerable households.

Over 1.1 million households are now growing iron beans, bringing improved nutrition, livelihoods, and resiliency to nearly 5.5 million Ugandans like Twebaze.