Delivering Safe Beans for Better Health
This post was written by Dr. Boaz Waswa, scientist — Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).
This year’s World Food Safety Day theme, “Safer food, better health,” highlights the role that safe, nutritional food plays in ensuring human health and well-being and calls for a set of specific actions to make food safer.
Food safety starts on the farm and ends with the consumer. There is need to align interventions along the commodity value chain to ensure that food is produced and processed in a clean and healthy environment, thus guaranteeing the consumers a healthy diet.
PABRA developed the Bean Corridor Approach as an approach to resolve production to marketing challenges along the bean value chain. PABRA works along the bean value chain from production to consumption. Our research on beans has led to the release of over 300 bean varieties in Kenya. Our goal is to ensure that the beans produced are of high nutritional content, are acceptable by the consumers and markets, are climate smart and are produced under safe conditions. The work on beans draws in all the bean value chain stakeholders, among them researchers, producers, aggregators, transporters, processors, consumers and policymakers, to find solutions to production and healthy diets.
Ways of delivering safe beans to the consumers
PABRA research for development has several entry points for delivering nutritious and safe beans to the consumers.
Breeding for resistance to pest and diseases:
Conferring to plants’ ability to resist pests and diseases through breeding is one method PABRA has used to ensure safe beans to the world. Beans are prone to disease, such as anthracnose, root rots, angular leaf spot and blights, among others. Through breeding, PABRA through the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organization (KALRO), has developed bean varieties that are tolerant to a wide range of pests and diseases. For example, the varieties KK8 and KK194 were bred for root rot resistance, a major disease problem in the western Kenya region. Bean varieties that are resistant or tolerant to pests and diseases demand less use of agrochemicals, thus contributing to safer foods for all.
Growing disease-free seeds
Planting seeds infected by disease could lead to complete crop failure. Such also demands extensive use of agrochemicals to control the disease in the field. The disease problem can be minimized by growing disease-free seeds. PABRA has continued to work with KALRO to produce high-quality breeding materials that are used by private seed companies to produce certified seeds. By using clean seeds, the risk of disease incidences is reduced, meaning that use of agrochemicals is also minimized.
Scouting and surveillance
Crop monitoring is the foundation of any integrated pest and disease management program. The primary goals of monitoring are to locate and identify insect and disease problems at their earliest onset, and to observe changes in the severity of infestation.
Crop monitoring provides heightened awareness of pest presence, activity and control. It helps identify incidence and severity of pests and diseases before they reach high levels of economic loss. Early detection informs a farmer to adopt preventive approaches that are less costly and require less use of agrochemicals. Monitoring can help reduce pesticide use by eliminating unnecessary, routine applications, and assures that pesticides are applied at the proper life cycle stage to ensure effectiveness.
Crop monitoring is accomplished by regular field visits and random plant inspections throughout the production season and using sticky traps and indicator plants.
PABRA published a bean disease and pest identification and management guidebook that is easy to read and can be used by any bean producer during monitoring. The program is in the process of developing digital pest and disease identification tools that will enable rapid pest and disease identification.
PABRA has trained and works with experts in pest and disease management at KALRO and at the community level. Other initiatives, such as the PlantWise program, supported by an international nonprofit called the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), and Biovision Africa, have trained agricultural extension staff to operate plant clinics in several counties across Kenya. The farmers trained as plant nurses regularly visit farms, assist with plant examinations and encourage farmers to use nearby plant clinics. Using the plant clinics, for example, a farmer can be assisted to identify the pests and diseases and the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly remedies.
Sticky cards provide an easy monitoring of pests on a farm. Sticky cards are glue-based traps frequently used in pest control to catch and monitor insects and other pests. These are either yellow or blue. Pests are attracted by the color, get stuck on the cards and die. Yellow sticky cards can be used for mass trapping of various insect pests, especially winged aphids, whiteflies and fungus gnats, while blue sticky cards are for mass trapping of thrips. Fortunately, beneficial insects are not attracted to either yellow or blue cards.
Whereas the cards can help control insects by trapping, the ultimate use of the sticky cards is to detect pests and monitor changes in pest abundance to target the right intervention. Farmers can place multiple sticky cards around the farm to help pinpoint the source of an insect problem. This can be a host plant or direction of wind and other dispersal agents. Early detection of pests is critical in choice of management option that can significantly reduce use of agrochemicals.
Sticky cards can be bought from local agrovets and companies such as RealPM that develop low-cost, biological solutions that reduce the use of chemical pesticides.
Promotion of good agricultural practices (GAPs)
A healthy plant can grow stronger and protect itself from pests and disease attack. Farmers can adopt GAPs to ensure healthy crops and to lower the risk of contaminating produce with dangerous pathogens or agrochemicals. By following GAPs from field preparation through harvest and marketing, the risk of contaminating produce can be greatly reduced.
PABRA has invested in training the bean producers to adopt Integrated crop management and integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) practices that advocate for building diverse and resilient systems to drought, pest and diseases. Key to a pest- and disease-free farm is farm hygiene, where the farm is kept weed free and at the right crop density and spacing.
Timely planting can help evade adverse weather that predisposes beans to disease attack. It can also help evade periods of high pest and disease attack to beans. Promoting soil health improvement ensures that beans are healthy and able to fight off pest and disease attacks. Other aspects include crop diversification and intercropping to take advantage of natural repellants and physical barriers for insect control.
Judicious use of agrochemicals
High incidence of pests and diseases has pushed farmers to use more agrochemicals to increase crop productivity. These chemicals can be insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematicides, fertilizers, liming or acidifying agents, soil conditioners, pesticides and animal husbandry chemicals. Application of agrochemicals help to manage plant nutrition, plant diseases and crop yield. However, agrochemicals can be harmful and cause food contamination. Some chemicals have long-term residual effects that can result in adverse health complications to humans.
Working with partners, PABRA has invested in training farmers on the safe and proper use of the agrochemicals. This has involved training and working with sprayer service providers in the community. The trainings cover topics such as safety gear; choice and use of the agrochemicals; proper handling procedure, including use of safety gear; safe storage; and first aid.
Technologies, such as seed dressing, with both chemical and biological solutions are one way of reducing the overall chemical use on the farms. Seed dressing or treatments consist of the application of biological, physical and chemical agents and techniques to seeds to provide protection and improve the establishment of healthy crops. These include fungicides, insecticides, inoculants, plant growth regulators, fertilizers and fertilizer enhancers. Seed dressing is like immunization — taking a little dose of the chemical to build protection and immunity. Seed treatment enables protecting the bean seeds and seedlings during the initial development stages from attack by pests and diseases. A bean is protected over the first 30 days, minimizing multiple sprays with agrochemicals. Studies have shown that the amount required for chemical seed treatment is relatively low, in the range of 5 to 10%, compared to that applied in furrow or foliar sprays. With the reduction in the amount of chemicals used, effective seed priming technologies can be cost effective and ecologically sustainable, especially to the resource-poor farmers. Seed treatment confers to plants other benefits, such as increased germination, uniform seedling emergence and breaking dormancy.
Use of biological seed treatment products containing beneficial microorganisms, such as Mycorrhiza, Trichoderma, Bacillus and Rhizobium, are now widely used in organic farming as a strategy to minimize use of chemical seed dressers. The microorganisms grow fast and multiply in the soil and quickly colonize plant roots, offering the germinating seed protection and immunity against most of the soil borne pathogens. The biological seed treatment products contribute toward control of nematodes and soil-borne diseases while providing the grower with additional value in enhancing plant growth and yields.
In Kenya, there are various chemical and biological seed treatment products on the markets that bean farmers can use to protect their crops while minimizing use of agrochemicals.
Biofertilizers and biopesticides
As in seed treatment, the use of biofertilizer and biopesticides relies on beneficial microorganisms to protect the plants from pest and disease incidences without use of chemical solutions. The biofertilizers are applied in the soil or as foliar spray on the leaves. These, in addition to preventing pest and disease attack, enhance plant growth and tolerance to adverse weather conditions, such as droughts and cold temperatures. Research by PABRA partners has demonstrated the potency of organic pesticides made from a mixture of organic extracts, such as pepper, neem, tithonia and garlic, in control of bean fly, white fly and aphids, among other harmful insects. Organic pesticides have minimal health risks and a low postharvest index, meaning that the final produce is safe and can be harvested and consumed within a very short time of application of the pesticide.
Food safety at storage
A significant proportion of food contamination and loss happens at postharvest handling and storage. This can be from the risk of molds, as well as contamination from grain preservation chemicals. Food safety must start from the field with good agricultural practices that minimize chemical contamination in the final, stored grain. PABRA has promoted various technologies that promote good postharvest handling while at the same time reducing the chemical footprint in the foods. There are simple technologies for ensuring that the final grain is safe for storage. Proper drying of beans on tarpaulins, as opposed to drying on the ground, can help keep the grain clean and minimize aflatoxin contamination from soil. PABRA partners have promoted the use of automated threshers where beans are threshed in more hygienic conditions compared to on the ground where risk of contamination is high. Use of bubble driers is aimed to protect the beans from exposure to rain or animal droppings and quickens drying of grain, thus minimizing aflatoxin contamination. The use of hermitic, nonchemical storage technologies is another way to minimize use of chemical preservatives. PABRA partners have demonstrated and promoted the use of hermitic storage bags and silos. Hermetic storage is a method of using sealed, airtight units to control moisture and insects in stored dry grain. The hermetic storage restricts gas exchanges between the internal and external environments and the stored commodity, maintaining the initial levels of moisture and controlling pests by the lack of oxygen.
Another area for ensuring safe and healthy foods is at the processing stage. PABRA works with several companies processing beans into various products, such as polished and packed beans, precooked beans, frozen ready-to-eat beans, bean flour, snacks and noodles, among others. Food safety is a key component of any food processing, so PABRA has been working with the companies on product development, packaging and marketing. PABRA has supported the companies to undertake food safety assessments, such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) analysis. HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product. This has been a critical step in meeting national food production standards set out by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).
Achieving food safety and healthy diets is our collective responsibility. As we celebrate World Food Safety Day, we join the world in advocating for safe and healthy diets for all. We call on close collaboration among all stakeholders to ensure that production to consumption is done in a safe and healthy manner.