Agnes Muendo admires her farm's mature ready-to-harvest crop of drought-tolerant high-iron Nyota beans.
Photo: CIAT/ Boaz Waswa

With new bean varieties, women farmers in Kenya cope with drought

In Makueni County, Kenya, a story of hope in the face of relentless drought thanks to new bean varieties and climate-smart agriculture technologies. 

Agnes Muendo, Eleanor Muli, and Phoebe Mwangangi from Makueni County, Kenya, ended the 2022/23 cropping season with some peace of mind having harvested a significantly increased yield from tiny fractions of their land despite the prolonged drought.

This situation would usually result in crop failure and zero produce.

The three women are early adopters and lead farmers in their community who embraced climate-smart farming practices touted by The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT (The Alliance) and its Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research in Africa (AICCRA) project to build resilience for smallholder farmers to climate change.

Kenya’s dryland areas, including Makueni County, have experienced reduced annual rainfall and more prolonged droughts for five consecutive seasons. Farmers in these regions mostly grow crops susceptible to drought, often drying up before maturity.

This has adversely affected rainfed agriculture and diminished food reserves, pushing an estimated five million Kenyans into famine and starvation.

Over two seasons, AICCRA has promoted and scaled a package of CGIAR climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies in Makueni to build climate change resilience among smallholder farmers, especially women. These technologies include improved drought-tolerant crop varieties, climate-smart farm and crop management practices, and rainwater harvesting.

AICCRA’s Boaz Waswa, who led the The Alliance team in disseminating the new technologies, describes a participatory process that saw farmers lead the learning process to get first-hand experience of how their agriculture activities can be improved.

“We embarked on a learning journey with farmers to adopt climate-smart farming practices to adapt to changing climate,” Boaz Waswa, Soil Fertility Expert, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

The Alliance ran demonstration trials in multiple locations in Makueni County, including using Muendo, Muli, and Mwangangi’s farms to train more than 200 farmers to adopt practices such as crop diversification, conservation agriculture, and planting crop varieties that are tolerant to drought.

The Alliance trained and encouraged farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops like sorghum, millet, pigeon peas, cowpea, and beans to diversify and mitigate the risk of losses. Crop diversification was also deployed as a safeguard such that if one crop fails, farmers can harvest others.

The team also introduced an early maturing drought-tolerant bean variety called Nyota, developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) through the support of the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).

The highly nutritious Nyota bean variety matures within 70 days under low rainfall, compared to other varieties that take 90 days to mature and would wilt in drought. It is also micro-nutrient-rich with higher iron and Zinc levels than available varieties.

Agnes Muendo of Kalawa Ward in Makueni County hosted demonstration trial plots for planted pearl millet, cowpea, and Nyota beans.

She received training on rain monitoring using a simple rain gauge. Despite recording a paltry 212 mm of rainfall, her experimental small plot yielded 30 kilos of beans from 2 kilos of seed, which, when converted to acreage, would have given almost half a ton of beans from an acre of land.

“I wish I had planted more Nyota beans in the whole section (where the) failed maize. I would have had more beans for home use and for selling”

Agnes Muendo

Muendo’s peers, Muli and Mwangangi, from different parts of the county, followed suit, practicing conservation agriculture that included practices such as water harvesting technologies and forms of minimal tillage—such as ripping—which also helps to break the hard pan in their soil, thus enhancing water infiltration and storage.

With these practices, they registered a significant increase in produce, with little demo plots yielding more than their farms had produced in the past.

This is despite the seasonal rain averaging between 117 and 120 mm only.

Eleanor Muli, of Makindu Ward, with her Nyota beans stored in hermitic bags. Photo: CIAT/ Boaz Waswa

The testimonies of these farmers show the potential of improving food and nutrition security and building resilience to climate change among smallholder farmers in Kenya’s drylands.

Farmers adopting drought-tolerant varieties and cropping systems and applying climate-smart agriculture practices stand to benefit more from better harvests.

AICCRA is working to scale climate-smart agriculture and transform climate information services. It works with research centers across the CGIAR partnership to increase access and use of CGIAR innovations for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa.

The latest AICCRA Annual Report for 2022 shows how it’s already reached three million people - including in Kenya, one of its six focus countries of operation. 

AICCRA is achieving such results by building partnerships with county governments, farmer organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.


David Ngome - Communications Lead, AICCRA Kenya 

Noel Templer - Seed System Specialist, Alliance of Bioversity International-CIAT