Pulses; A miracle of agriculture and nutrition

Kumwambu primary school pupils show JESCA beans harvested from the school plot. PHOTO | Alice Maro, FAO Tanzania.

Pulses are a sub-group of leguminous crops that produce edible seeds used by both humans and animals. Pulses have broad genetic diversity, from which several varieties have been developed. Genetic diversity is an essential component for on-farm pest management. High soil biodiversity provides ecosystems with greater resistance and resilience.

Pulses are both healthy and nutritious. Pulses are also a crucial component of multiple cropping systems, due to their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. When intercropped with other crops, some of the nitrogen produced by the beans is transferred to the subsequent crop, thereby increasing their yield. Growing pulses also promotes sustainable agriculture, as pulse crops help decrease greenhouse gases, increase soil health, and use less water than other crops.

For the past five years, FAO has been advocating for the adoption of good agricultural practices and climate smart agriculture practices and technologies in beans, maize, and cassava, under the Kigoma Joint Programme. With ongoing challenges in the agriculture sector affecting productivity, the programme has been promoting the use of pulses such as beans to improve/restore soil fertility and as a means to reduce production costs for farmers.

Beans have also been introduced to diversify diets and as a way to improve the nutritional status through introducing bio-fortified beans such as the JESCA bean variety, with the nutritional benefits of iron and zinc, essential for infant growth and development.

Equipped with skills and knowledge to use improved seed varieties and integrate crops such as pulses with maize, farmers in the Districts of Kasulu, Kibondo, and Kakonko, have attested to the compelling increase in crop productivity.

Some farmers have indicated a yield increase from 95 to 400 kg per acre, with a reduction in the seeding rate from 90 to 32 kg per acre. The drought tolerance and early maturity (67–70 days) benefits of the JESCA beans have attracted farmers to produce quality-declared bean seeds to ensure accessibility of the variety at the community level. This has also stimulated collaboration with Kanembwa JKT for large-scale seed multiplication for wider outreach within and beyond Kigoma Region.

The UN also continues to work with various Government institutions such as TARI and TOSCI, to promote production and consumption of JESCA beans in Primary schools by integrating the topic within self-reliance subjects and school feeding programmes to address nutritional challenges in a sustainable way.

Theresia Massoy- National Agriculture Officer-FAO Tanzania.