‘BRAINS’: integrating bean, fruit trees and beneficial insects farming and business enterprises in Africa

Pictured during the signing of the agreement of the CAD $20 million grant for the BRAINS initiative: (front row, seated): Marcia Colquhoun (centre), Executive Director, Pan-Africa Regional Development Program, Global Affairs Canada (GAC); Maya Rajasekharan (left), Managing Director, Africa, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT; and Abdou Tenkouano, Director General, icipe. (Back row, standing, l-r): Hellen Oriaro and Hanif Pabani (GAC); Sunday Ekesi, icipe; and Jean-Claude Rubyogo, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

Five million smallholder farmers; 2.5 million consumers, value chain actors and entrepreneurs in Africa; to benefit from ‘BRAINS’, a new innovative, climate-smart, women and youth favourable initiative that will integrate bean, fruit trees and beneficial insects farming and business enterprises in Africa

Nairobi, Kenya, 30 January 2024: The Government of Canada has announced a CAD $20 million grant to the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (Alliance); and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), to develop low carbon, climate resilient systems, that are favourable to women and the youth, using bean, fruit trees and beneficial insects farming and business enterprises.

Titled: ‘Building Equitable Climate-Resilient African Bean & INsect Sectors (BRAINS)’, the initiative will be implemented across 15 sub-Saharan African countries, directly benefitting 5 million smallholder farmers, 2.5 million consumers and school-age children, and a range of value chain actors. Indirectly, BRAINS will profit 50 million consumers, businesses and households. This support is part of a CAD $78 million development funding by the Government of Canada, announced by Canada’s Minister of International Development, during a visit to Ethiopia and Egypt in May 2023. Read more

“The BRAINS initiative is an example of the power of partnerships. It will harness the extensive experience, innovations, networks, efficiencies of scale and broad geographical reach, of The Alliance, through the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA); and icipe, into a system-based approach. This strategy will promote value chains and markets that are gender-transformative and resilient to climate change.” – Abdou Tenkouano, icipe Director General.

“Integrated bean, fruit tree and edible insect economies present a great opportunity for transformative change in Africa. They are effective vehicles to accelerate inclusive climate adaptation outcomes at scale. They can also improve diets, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods for millions of consumers.”  – Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

PABRA and icipe bean, fruit trees and edible insects innovations

Developed and facilitated by The Alliance, PABRA has over the past 27 years increased production and strengthened the value chain of common beans in 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the crop is central to food and nutrition security and income generation. Through interventions like the ‘Improved Bean Productivity and Marketing in Africa’, a project supported by Global Affairs, Canada, PABRA’s demand-led research innovations include: breeding climate resilient farmer and consumer preferred bean varieties; efficient seed systems for timely deliver of these varieties; post-harvest and agronomic approaches and soil enrichment and nitrogen fixation strategies.

The PABRA innovations also encompass pre-cooked beans and more nutritious bean products that contribute to energy savings in rural areas and to school feeding programmes. Through the Bean Corridor approach, PABRA intensifies bean production; expands marketing and consumption by eliminating bottlenecks in the bean value chain, and by pivoting profitable, inclusive markets for smallholder farmers and small and medium enterprises. This contribution ensures that improved beans and nutrient-rich bean products are accessed by even the most marginalised communities.

For more than 50 years, icipe has developed integrated pest managements (IPM) options for many devastating pests and diseases of fruit, vegetable, legumes and cereals. Examples include the icipe-led continent-wide initiative that has developed and disseminated a highly effective, systems-approach, nature-based IPM package for fruit flies. The programme is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, alongside other donors. The icipe IPM package consists of pre- and post-harvest methods that meet the requirements of domestic and export markets, thus contributing to income generation, employment creation, food and nutritional security, and reduction in the overuse and misuse of pesticides.

icipe is also leading the way in using edible insects to transform the current food system into a more sustainable and vibrant, climate-smart, circular economy. Edible insects farming is environmentally friendly – “…insects have a low ecological footprint, and they emit smaller amounts of greenhouse gases, compared to other animals.” Moreover, insects such as black soldier flies are effective recyclers of organic wastes into nutritious, chitin-rich organic frass fertilisers that enhance soil health. icipe has designed improved, low-tech options for mass-rearing of edible insects and supported the development of harmonised standards and policies for safe, equitable use and trade in edible insect. Through massive awareness raising and training efforts, the Centre has contributed to the emergence of small- and medium-scale, insect-based enterprises. The icipe-developed edible insects value chain cuts across the food system including farming, waste management and inputs, while also interacting with other key systems like energy, trade and the health of people, animals and the environment.

(Left): Bean varieties and products developed through PABRA. (Right): icipe innovations for the control of fruit pests

Through BRAINS, The Alliance and icipe will collaborate with national agricultural research institutes, through a South-South participatory development approach, to integrate bean, fruit trees systems and insects for food and feed farming. The systems will be complemented with components of the icipe climate-smart push-pull technology, which intercrops legumes and fodder grass to control cereal pests; and the Centre’s modern, climate-smart and sustainable beekeeping technologies.

“The BRAINS partnership will co-develop demand-led, climate-adapted bean varieties and fruit trees, primarily mango and avocado, supported by environmentally-friendly pest and disease management options; organic soil fertility enhancement, through insect-based frass biofertilisers; and enhanced pollination services by the bees. Moreover, beans enhance nitrogen fixation and soil enrichment; fruit trees and beekeeping-friendly trees are perennial and drought-tolerant, thus helping to protect landscapes, restore soil function and fertility, and helping in carbon sequestration.” – Dr Sunday Ekesi, Head, Capacity Building and Integrated Sciences, icipe.

“The Alliance-PABRA and icipe will leverage each others capacities and partnerships to elevate value chains of target commodities. The two organisations will complement each other, share experiences and facilities and expand partnerships and ultimately deliver the right products to catalyse women and youth farmers and entreprenerus; attract investments and diversify portifolios to increase climate resilience.” – Jean Claude Rubyogo  Bean Programme Leader & Director, PABRA, Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

The transfer of the technologies will emphasize: the participation of women and in the project design and decision-making; as well as digitally enabled agronomic advisory services that are farmer-relevant, accurate and gender-responsive. The value chain innovations created by The Alliance- PABRA and icipe will lead to new trade partnerships and new markets; cooperatives and an investment platform for beans, fruits, edible insects and pollination services; and collaborations with finance investors and funds for financially inclusive, and gender-responsive investments.