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[YAOUNDÉ] Farmers in Cameroon are growing new varieties of beans that are providing up to three times the yields of traditional crops, which have been under attack from pests and disease as well as adverse weather patterns.

Seven varieties of hardier and more nutritious beans are now being distributed to farmers, following extensive trials by the country's Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD).

Martin Nguegim, a researcher at IRAD,says the varieties were selected from hundreds given to Cameroon by the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), a multi-agency initiative that coordinates research on the continent.

Trials and selection of varieties were conducted at the institute and by farmers from 2006 to 2012, he tells SciDev.Net.

"It was only last year that the first varieties were officially selected. We proceeded by selective introduction, testing varieties that best suited the agro-ecological conditions of Cameroon."

Laurent Nounamo, national research coordinator for the programme at IRAD, says that the seven varieties can produce up to three tonnes of beans per hectare compared with 1.5 tonnes for traditional crops. They are also richer in proteins, iron and zinc.

Nounamo confirmed at a meeting (18 February), ahead of Cameroon's 2013–14 agricultural campaign launch, which kicked off this month, that the volume of traditional varieties has been on the decline.

According to Nguegim, about 800,000 farmers in Cameroon have been involved in the selection process for new bean crops since 2006.

He says that long distances between IRAD's research station and farmers are the main problem for promoting the new varieties and suggests setting up local networks of farmers trained in the production of good quality seeds.

Seeds of the new varieties are sold for US$1.52 per kilogram, the same price as traditional seeds.

Sylvain Tchoffo, a farmer who tested the new varieties last year, says: "I harvested 18 bags of beans, three more than the year before, for the same quantity sowed on the same ground. I noticed that caterpillars did not destroy the leaves and the pods of my beans."

Beans are eaten by many in Cameroon and in the region. The food is one of the main dishes in school canteens and is common in family meals.

Researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the coordinating agency of PABRA, worked with the Cameroonian scientists on the project.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.