MASFRIJOL eyes long-term sustainability in its final year

The need to ensure that farmers have affordable, quality seed to plant is critical to the success of MASFRIJOL as the project nears its completion.

Luis Flores

Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO – How can Michigan State University (MSU) researchers in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources help ensure the sustainability of their projects beyond the lab or field?

For Luis Flores, assistant professor in Department of Community Sustainability and project coordinator of the Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab's associate award, called MASFRIJOL, this question is central to his project’s long-term success. MASFRIJOL means more beans in Spanish, and Flores's team seeks to improve the health of the indigenous people in Guatemala’s western highlands, where more than half of the children are stunted due to malnutrition.

The challenge to the MASFRIJOL project is twofold. Beans do not grow well in the western highlands because of the elevation, and for the people living there, for whom beans were once a common staple, the need to include more than just maize in their diet is poorly understood.

Through a combined program of distributing improved varieties of bean seed to local farmers for planting combined with training on how to ensure the best yields along with family-focused nutrition education on adding more beans to their regular diet, MASFRIJOL has helped farmers to harvest more beans and keep them for family consumption (versus selling them as a cash crop). Farmers have even learned how to save seed for the next season’s planting, and their families have learned new recipes to add beans to their diet at least three times a week.

The concern arises as the project begins its last year. The need to ensure that farmers have affordable, quality seed to plant is critical to its success beyond the project’s close. Bean seed is not normally sold commercially and resource-poor farmers cannot afford to pay much for better quality seed.

To meet the need to ensure that quality bean seed is available to these farmers, MASFRIJOL established several community seed depots, where farmers recognized for their successful plantings and harvests have been chosen to learn how to grow quality seed, that is, not beans for food consumption, but bean seed, that has been carefully cultivated for the next season’s planting.

Selected farmers must have land, proven experience with successful, bean production, a source for irrigation, know how to read and write, go through special training seed production, harvest, post-harvest, and environmental protection.

Through careful planning, MASFRIJOL has established 81 successful seed depots, with farmers who have had great success growing quality seed. So fine is the seed that all of these farmers have sold their production for local planting, with farmers showing a willingness to pay anywhere from 20 to 70+ percent more for the quality seed than for market grain.

The success of these community seed depots holds promise for the gains made in improved bean yields and better diets in Guatemala’s western highlands for the long term.

The Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab at MSU is holding its Grain Legume Research Conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to provide a forum for its research scientists to present their findings and achievements over the past 4.5 years. Flores and his team presented these finding there.

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