South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are being given drought-resistant “super beans” to reduce their reliance on food aid and encourage self-sufficiency.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is distributing the fast-growing, high-yield Nabe 15 super bean, which refugees can plant immediately to replenish their stocks.
The bean, which is not genetically modified, was developed by scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda, in collaboration with the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (Ciat).
“Uganda is currently overwhelmed by the high number of refugees, especially those from South Sudan. Humanitarian partners are finding it difficult to maintain the rations of food assistance necessary per household,” said Beatrice Okello, senior programme manager at the FAO in Uganda. “It is important that other sources of food be found to complement the food assistance.”
Uganda hosts more than 1 million refugees from South Sudan. Lack of funds led the World Food Programme to cut food rations last year.
Now the FAO and its partners are distributing the beans, along with seeds for the staple crops of maize, beans and various vegetables. The new variety is sourced from the Kawanda gene bank, run by the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance.
“The majority [of refugees] come from an agricultural background … Providing the seeds helps them to restart a livelihood for their household and ensure food security,” Okello said.
Andie Lambe, executive director at International Refugee Rights Initiative, said that most of the people the organisation had spoken to were keen to improve their self-sufficiency. “They do not want to be indefinite, passive recipients of aid,” she said.
The Nabe 15 bean has already been tested among farmers in Uganda’s northern region, who reported an increase in harvests using the new variety.
The FAO estimates that up to 2,000kg of beans per hectare can be grown from 50kg of seeds. The crop takes between 60 and 70 days to mature, compared with many local bean varieties that can take between 80 and 90 days.
The bean is considered tastier and more resilient to pests and disease than local varieties. It is a space-efficient variety, according to Okello, important for refugees farming small plots. “It also grows almost everywhere. Some of the land allocated to the refugees is not very conducive for production but this variety of beans does relatively well on it.
“Both in its fresh and dry form it swells when cooked, increasing the amount to be eaten, and cooks fast, without consuming a lot of scarce wood fuel.”
Refugees arriving in Uganda were originally allocated about half an acre of land to grow crops and supplement the food aid they receive, and were given materials to build a basic home.
However, because of the huge numbers of people crossing the border, fleeing the continuing violence in South Sudan, only around half now have access to arable land.
Lambe said she was hearing stories of refugees returning to ongoing conflict areas as a result of inadequate services in host countries, describing it as “a worrying development”.
“If we are struggling to provide even this most basic of services, we are obviously failing in our collective responsibility and need to address this deficiency quickly to ensure that refugees are not forced into taking drastic action to support themselves and their families,” she said.
Lambe said more long-term solutions were needed, such as greater integration into communities. “This could include, for example, micro-loans to enable entrepreneurship and diversity of training and skills development based on a market analysis of needs in the community,” she said.