A consortium of horticultural companies has received a grant of over £500,000 from the government's Agri-Tech Catalyst fund to investigate the causes of bean wilt syndrome in fine and runner beans imported from Kenya.
The project, led by UK fresh produce supplier Provenance Partners in partnership with horticultural research organisation NIAB-EMR, expects to deliver a 10 per cent increase in average yields.
Coupled with a 20 per cent reduction in waste, this could boost marketable yields by nearly 1,000 tonnes each year and generate extra income of over £3m. This is according to Edward Morrison of Vegpro, a major Kenyan fresh produce exporter involved in the research.
The research could also help to deliver food and job security for growers, and enhance soil and pathogen management skills for what is an underserved sector of the Kenyan agricultural industry, Morrison said.
The project, funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board’s Agri-Tech Catalyst fund, will attempt to identify and combat the causes of pathogenic bean wilt syndrome, with the aim of reducing the incidence and severity of fungal diseases. This would help increase the volume of high quality beans that can be imported to the UK market.
On average, around 60,000 tonnes of fine and runner beans, worth nearly £400m at retail sales value, are exported each year, with the UK receiving almost half of this volume.
But smallholder producers of these beans often suffer marketable yield deficits caused by small bean sizes, misshapes and ‘stringiness’ as a result of soli-borne diseases and poor soil water management.
The project consortium aims to address this problem by delivering new science, technology, knowledge and training to accelerate sustainable intensification of both large- and small-scale bean production in Kenya.
The researchers want to develop appropriate irrigation infrastructure, scheduling tools and weather probability forecasting to improve soil water management, bean yields and consistency of quality from smallholder farmers.
Provenance Partners and NIAB-EMR will be assisted in the project by two Kenyan companies: Vegpro, a major exporter to the UK and European markets, and Dudutech, which provides integrated pest management solutions.
Additional support will come from agricultural testing laboratory Cropnuts and the East African environmental consultancy ACE, as well as weather analyst Weatherquest.