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CGIAR Research Program
CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC)
Alliance Bioversity International-International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)
Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB)
Geographic scope
Contact person
Jean Claude Rubyogo, Alliance Bioversity International-CIAT


Climbing bean technologies introduced by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) in Rwanda have helped 800,000 farming households increase productivity and food security, resulting in approximately 5,000 households being lifted out of poverty.

In Rwanda, beans provide an average household with 32% of its calories and 65% of its protein. They also provide income to approximately 31% of Rwandan households. However, a typical farming household often has less than a hectare of land on which to grow crops. With 79-88% of beans consumed by a typical household coming from their own production, Rwanda requires large improvements in land productivity to feed its rapidly growing population.

Better bean productivity can contribute to feeding Rwanda’s growing population. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT

In the mid-1980s, the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), the then Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda (ISAR), and GLDC partner the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), began working together to intensify bean cultivation with climbing beans, which yield three to four times more beans than bush bean varieties.

Between 1985 and 2012, over 90 bean varieties, 48 of which were climbing beans and 10 of which were biofortified, were released in Rwanda. During the same period, RAB, in partnership with the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) and supported by HarvestPlus, developed seed systems for improved bush and climbing beans and supported their dissemination to thousands of bean-growing families directly or via partnerships with non-governmental organizations, farmer groups and cooperatives.

Climbing beans yield three to four times more beans than bush bean varieties. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT

Using a national representative survey of 1,122 bean-growing households covering 1,440 bean plots, RAB and CIAT assessed climbing bean adoption and farm-level outcomes and impacts. It was found that approximately 50% (785,714) of bean-producing households in Rwanda grow climbing beans, with their crops occupying 43% (235,904 hectares) of the bean-growing area in the country. Over a 15-year period, these numbers have increased significantly. This growth has been attributed to farmers adopting improved varieties, including mid-altitude climbing beans. Targeted breeding based on agro-ecological adaptation and participatory plant breeding processes has enabled climbing beans to not only be grown at traditionally high altitudes, but also in medium- and low-altitude areas.

An impact assessment of climbing bean adoption has demonstrated that for each kilogram of climbing bean seed planted, per capita consumption expenditure rose by 0.9% and bean consumption increased by 2.8%, equating to 1.5 kilograms of beans per person per agricultural season. This translates into an additional 117,480 tons of beans consumed by 4.4 million people in Rwanda each year. Climbing bean adoption also increased the probability of household food security by 0.6%, while decreasing the likelihood of being poor by 0.6%, which translates to 4,714 households being lifted out of poverty every year over the period studied.

Climbing bean adoption is associated with household food security and reduced poverty. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT

Households that adopted climbing bean varieties were found to obtain an additional 270 kilograms of beans per hectare

Given their high yields, climbing beans can compensate for the small land areas available to adopters and provide benefits to families facing declining land sizes and quality. Households that adopted climbing bean varieties were found to obtain an additional 270 kilograms of beans per hectare compared to those who did not adopt these varieties. Non-adopters would potentially harvest an additional 657 kilograms of beans per hectare if they switched from bush to climbing bean cultivation. The difference in yield advantage between the two groups of farmers was found to be due to different farming practices – for example, climbing bean farmers mainly farm on marginal land which limited the yield response of climbing beans. However, those adopting climbing beans would have been much worse off without the innovation.

More men are becoming involved in bean production, which was previously the domain of women. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT

Climbing bean growers reside in more densely populated villages (for example, 303 individuals per 0.8 square kilometers compared to 238 per 0.8 square kilometers for bush bean growers) and farm on steep slopes (6.7% slopes compared to 5.2% for bush plots), which accelerates soil erosion. While all farmers are equally likely to adopt climbing bean varieties, those faced with more severe land shortages plant more area with climbing bean. Another finding has been that bean production, which used to be the sole responsibility of women, has started to attract more men, who are sharing tasks such as staking with women.

Header photo: A bean farmer in the field. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT