Utilizing jack beans in Mozambique

Originally published on November 30, 2018.

The room is full of Mozambican farmers and community leaders talking in a mixture of languages. At the thought of trying new food, they are full of anticipation, and some apprehension. Zachary Hall, a Nutrition Technical Advisor with a Public Health in Nutrition Master’s Degree, is doing a cooking demonstration in front of the group. He stirs the maize meal, stews the kale, and – slightly tweaking the traditional Mozambican recipe – boils germinated jack beans over a fire.

The demonstration comes with some skepticism.

 “Are you sure we can eat these beans?” asks one participant.

Zachary assures the attendees – when germinated, jack beans are not only edible, but also delicious and a great source of protein for households. These legumes are also high in many vitamins and minerals. Germination increases these vitamins (especially B vitamins) while rendering proteins and minerals more bioavailable. Zachary is a volunteer with the Feed the Future Resilient Agricultural Markets Activity – Beira Corridor (RAMA-BC). His nutrition demonstration is part of a three-part gender and nutrition series in Mozambique’s Tete and Manica provinces organized by the project. Funded by USAID and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, RAMA-BC is supporting farmers to increase agricultural productivity by adopting improved weather-resilient farming practices like using legume cover crops in maize fields to improve soil health. By pairing increased farm productivity, and hence incomes and food access with nutrition education, the project is giving farmers the knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods and health.

Compared to other leguminous cover crops, jack beans are the best option when it comes to protein content and replenishing nitrogen in the soil. Jack beans are also easy to store and extremely drought and pest resistant. Jack beans survive when other bean crops suffer with lack of rain or to weevil infestation, a common storage pest. But most importantly, jack beans play a vital role in repelling a recent invasive species, Fall Armyworm – a pest wreaking havoc on the maize harvest in Mozambique. Jack beans are a win-win when intercropped with maize, as they repel moths that lay the worm eggs while also enriching the soil.

Up until recently, many Mozambicans understood that jack beans were inedible. Knowing that germination helps make other legumes more digestible, Zachary set out to better understand the jack bean’s edibility by reviewing research on jack beans from around the world, including Africa. He confirmed that raw jack beans have a host of chemicals that can cause both acute and chronic effects. However, the process – germination, removing the peels and cooking the beans – breaks down the toxins making the beans not just edible, but also a valuable food source for improving household nutrition. Germination also more than halves cooking time, meaning farmers can spend less time collecting firewood and less money on charcoal, while also having less impact on the environment. This processing method can be applied to any beans as well.

“Germination drastically reduces toxins in the bean and makes the skin much easier to peel as the bean sprout breaks through the skin,” says Zachary. “All you have to do is soak the beans for a day, and then wash them every morning and night for two days to prevent rot and pests.” What’s more, the germination process reduces a normally laborious process for women of peeling the skins off other beans to make bean fritters, a common source of income that the project is promoting for its bean crops that do not otherwise have a market.

The beans were a hit at the gathering and many attendees even ate the beans first before enjoying chicken, a luxury in rural Mozambique. Many also reached for seconds. ‘Anima bem’ which means ‘this tastes so good,’ was repeated generously. They were excited to bring the knowledge and a bundle of jack beans back to their villages.

After the demonstration, attendees including community leaders, ag extension agents and RAMA-BC technicians will be using the recipes and germination instructions to train the project’s model family farmers. In turn, they will teach their own communities, reaching the over 7,000 participating farmers in the project.

Want to learn more? See the attached document which includes scientific evidence behind RAMA-BC's method of jack bean processing for safe and nutritious household consumption.

[1] D Cunha, Melwyn & Sridhar, K & Bhat, Rajeev. (2009). Nutritional quality of germinated seeds of Canavalia maritima of coastal sand dunes. Food Processing: Methods, Techniques and Trends. 363-384. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4469.7205.
Ndabikunze, B.M., Mamiro, P.S., Ley, G.J., & Mwanyika, S. J. (2016). Options for enhancing utilization of Jack beans (Canavalia ensiformis) in Tanzania. African Journal of Food Science, 10(10), 243-253.
Sridhar, K & Sahadevan, Seena. (2006). Nutritional and antinutritional significance of four unconventional legumes of the genus Canavalia – A comparative study. Food Chemistry. 99. 267-288. 10.1016/j.foodchem.2005.07.049.

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