“I have managed to save a good amount of money from the crops I sold from this harvest,” she says happily.
Margaret Lutaaya managed to harvest more than 700kgs of beans from the land she has been cultivating in Kawagalo Village, Bukuya Sub-county in Mubende District 118km from Kampala.
“I can even pay school fees for my daughters and take care of my husband.”
Over a decade ago, Lutaaya was engaged in unfruitful mixed farming with poor harvests for more than 30 years.
She recalls, with pain, the pressure of paying school fees for her seven children. She did not believe that she would become this self-reliant.
Convincing her husband who was doing odd jobs as a builder, she opted to go into farming on a large scale.
Starting out was a gamble. She first convinced her husband, Paul Lutaaya, who she has been married to for more than 30 years, to quit his job to join hands and increase yields.
The results were obviously rewarding as they opened up more land for cultivation.
From cultivating on two acres, they increased to four acres before purchasing eight more acres from the neighbours.
To her, business was booming as the family managed to harvest more than 10 bags of coffee.
But more was yet to come.
Naro to the rescue
Thankfully, National Agricultural Organisation (Naro), the apex body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the country, introduced improved bean varieties which are rich in zinc and iron.
This was aimed at ensuring food security and enabling rural farmers like Lutaaya get on their feet. It is also meant to conserve the environment.
NARO Bean 1, 2 and 3, which are bush beans that grow without supporting poles, were released in partnership with the National Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI) in Namulonge. They mature in a period of 60 to 68 days yet with one hectare, yield is between 1,500kgs and 2,000kgs.
These fast maturing beans have the ability to beat bad weather changes such as drought and diseases.
The new bean varieties help fight malnutrition, especially among children and women because they are rich in proteins. They have an added advantage that they cook quickly which makes them suitable for urban dwellers who face challenges with cooking fuel.
But to access the varieties, women had to form groups and she could not let this opportunity slip away.
The farmers groups were formed to ease seed distribution and offer market opportunities.
“This has not only ensured food security in our families but has also become a stable source of income for many families in this area,” she noted.
For Lutaaya, a mother of seven, the programme has helped her feed her family and diversify their diet. It is also helping her save towards a very important issue – treating her husband, who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
“Selling these improved beans helps me save money for my husband who is in and out of hospital,” she says.
“The money helps foot medical bills without so much hassle.”
The family is in position of harvesting 30 bags per season although this season they harvested only seven bags.
Lutaaya says the programme is an opportunity to invest in the education of their children.
She takes care of two grandchildren and a younger daughter, who are still in school.
“By selling beans and other crops, I am able to ensure my children continue with their studies,” she says proudly.
“We can even afford to buy extras like meat and clothes for our children.”
On average the family is able to harvest, sell farm produce and obtain total income of about Shs5m in a season.
To Lutaya, it is important for farmers to form associations under which they can operate as a group.
This, she says, helps in bulking their produce which is easy to find market for because the quantity of produce would be increased and farmers will have bargaining power to determine the required price.
This has worked well in the bean value chain and she is urging Naro to organise more farmers to emulate this value chain for other crops.
Despite all these efforts, the farmers still face challenges related to harsh droughts, especially during the dry season which means that farmers have to find alternative ways to save their crops.
To her, this approach can work well in the coffee value chain because a number of companies processing coffee have high demands, which farmers have failed to meet simply because they harvest what is available from the farm on individual basis.
Involving her husband in crop production has added a lot of value to her crop production.
“Working together and facing challenges together as a family helps,” she notes.
The improved drought resistant beans were released by NARO in 2016.
The biofortified beans provide a cheap source of nutrition among poorer communities. The varieties, also known as NAROBEAN 1, 2, 3 4C and 5C, are an excellent source of iron. Iron deficiency is the world’s leading nutritional ailment and can impair cognitive and physical development in children. Anemia, often caused by iron deficiency, increases risks to women during childbirth.
The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture says the beans have been bred by conventional means to resist the drought conditions that can lead to starvation as arable land disappears.
The group operates one of just two bean “gene banks” in Africa, which is expected to be hit hardest by climate change even though the continent produces less than 4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the UN Development Program.
One “gene bank” is on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala in Namulonge while the other is in Malawi. The Uganda bank stores around 4,000 types of beans.
Experts say the “super” beans are valuable because they cook quickly and tolerate most diseases and pests.