Covid 19 & Jack Beans

In many SSA countries small farmers are going hungry…
Some are only surviving beause they have sown Jack beans!
Now they can eat the leaves and pods.There is nothjing else!

Some of these farmers have suffered locust attacks and lost all their crops EXCEPT for the Jack beans!
At the same time they are re-fertilisng their depleted sol!

Dear Graham,
While I appreciate your concern for the people, and in particular small farmers in SSA, I feel I need to reply to your statement and call for caution. SSA covers a VERY large area. And what you are stating may be true for the part of SSA you are familiar with, but in our area (Niger) the situation looks different. Yes, here too, many small farmers struggle with lack of food. But there is very little relation with Covid 19 there. It is, sadly, the prevailing situation year after year because of various interrelated issues too long to discuss here. Furthermore, while it may be possible to grow Jack beans here, it is a completely unknown crop. And even though people know beans (cowpea is grown here) it is certainly not a staple crop. And so introducing Jack beans would signify the introduction of a foreign crop with all the implications related to such an issue; even if people are hungry, growing a new crop is not an easily accepted ‘thing’. Besides that, people have their coping strategies. There are many indigenous shrubs and trees of which the leaves and/or fruits or nuts are edible and quite nutritious (though rather course). And there is a type of wild grain that people use as well. The sad thing is that ‘modern’ agriculture has caused and is continuing to cause the disappearance of these valuable indigenous plants which can help people to survive if their crops fail. In my opinion it is a much more durable (economically and environmentally) option to promote the care and protection of these indigenous plants than the introduction of a foreign crop. I wonder if that option (ie the use of indigenous plants for food) is also available in your area?

Jeannette Gaïtou-Baas
Agricultural manager Sowing Seeds of Change in the Sahel


Dear Jeanette,
There may well be some SSA countries where Jack beans are not found but according to my information it grows wild in Niger. It may not be cropped, as in Nigeria, but it is an indigenous plant.
There are many scare stories about jack beans but hundreds of small farmers are now existing on nothing but Jack beans after their crops have failed or been eaten by locusts.
It is is the perfect emergency crop!
I could go into more details but it might be best if anyone interested emails me at

In Tanzania with a conservation agriculture program, we promote jack bean (also known as Canavalia) ONLY for soil fertility. There have been some unusual results including small livestock like sheep and goats fail to eat its leaves and if you plant around the field no livestock will enter your field. Another farmer from Arusha told us that elephants also failed to enter their field when arrives near and return back. More information is that some communities fry like coffee and eat, some cook like cake, etc. Could you please cite some literature for us to review and learn more about how the social or economic benefits of this crop.

What you report about animals not visiting fields with Jack beans has been observed widely!
Our farmers have noticed, with relief, that even locusts land.
Regarding the human consumption of leaves and pods there are many sources as well as lots of misinformation.
Here is one from an ECHO correspondent;

Young jack bean pods can be eaten as a vegetable without any special precautions. Allen Voelkel wrote from Mexico, "I received approximately nine jack bean seeds. These I planted around the school. Some of the plants got destroyed, others were neglected but, year after year, the plants continued to pop up around the place. I was tremendously impressed by their resistance to drought. At the time, they were the only green thing in sight for miles, and they were one of the few plants that could withstand the ever devouring leaf-cutter ants. One of our workers took some of the seeds out to a community and showed a family how to plant and, then later, to prepare [the young pods] to eat. The family loved them, and they continue to grow them as a garden vegetable.

How can I get the seeds to introduce this jack bean in my community if not my country;I am from Zimbabwe but currently in South Africa planning to go back and start organic gardening /farming at my off the grid home…?


If you visit
you will find mention of Jack beans as a cover crop in Zimbabwe.

Many of these smallholder farmers’ fields have been under cultivation for generations and the granitic sandy soils, predominant in the area, have become very poor in soil organic matter, a key component of soil fertility.
“Nitrogen-fixing green manure cover crops such as velvet beans, lablab and jack beans can provide an affordable way for smallholder farmers to bring back soil fertility, especially nitrogen, into the soil,” explained Thierfelder. “

You can also find research papers on Google where Jack beans are used in that country.

In Uganda many small farmers are starving and have only Jack beans to eat after losing all their other crops!