The contribution of common bean to nutrition and income has not been fully felt by smallholder farmers in western Kenya due to low yields. Good quality seed, if used with complementary practices can increase bean productivity. This study was conducted in Bondo sub-County to determine the methods used by farmers in seed quality control; factors affecting the choice preferences for informal bean seed sources; the structure and contribution of social networks in seed quality control. Primary data were collected from 100 respondents through scheduled interviews using structured questionnaires. STATA and UCINET computer packages were used to run data. A multinomial logit model was used to analyse the effects of socio-economic characteristics on the choice of seed sources. The nature of social networks was determined using measures of centrality and brokerage and visualized through network graphs. The results showed that smallholder bean farming was male dominated (57%) with average of 1.19 ha landholding and 0.34 ha under beans. Majority (90%) of farmers assessed quality characteristics while sourcing seed, with 46% considering seed free from insect attack as being of good quality. Majority (84%) of farmers never treated seed at planting, but practiced weeding (84%), timely harvesting (87%), cleaning (90%) and proper storage (92%) for quality control. The study revealed that farmer-to-farmer social networks exhibited the highest degree (48), betweenness (2690) and lowest closeness (169) centrality measures. Majority (97%) of farmers relied on informal sources for seed. The preferences for the informal seed sources are influenced by age, family size, area under beans, distance to nearest seed source, nature of land ownership, occupation and group membership; all of which were statistically significant at 0.05 levels. Therefore, the study suggests policy interventions to design locally-based bean seed system which utilizes farmer-to-farmer social networks to enhance supply of quality seed to smallholder farmers. Preference for certain bean varieties should be used for strategic varietal development. Finally, youth groups should be used as springboards for seed related interventions.

Background of the study
Grain legumes play a crucial role in human diet and economy. In many developing countries, grain legumes are relatively cheap and readily available source of nitrogen-rich edible seeds. They are used to develop a wide diversity of high-protein products and thus, constitute the major source of dietary protein in the diets of the poor with numerous nutritional benefits (Rebello et al., 2014; Bouchenak and Lamri-Senhadji, 2013; Shi et al., 2004; Venn, 2004). As major components of various farming systems, legumes provide residual nitrogen through fixation of atmospheric nitrogen and hence, reduce the needs for mineral nitrogen fertilizers (Dong et al., 2003).

Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) is the most important grain legume for direct human consumption in the world. It is the most widely grown and consumed grain legume in developing countries. Being a major source of dietary protein, minerals and certain vitamins, this crop plays a significant role in human nutrition (Pflieger et al., 2014). Bean per capita consumption in East Africa (50–60kg) (Buruchara et al., 2011) is perhaps the highest in the world (Legesse et al., 2013). In western Kenya, beans are produced by smallholder farmers mainly for subsistence. These farmers also sell part of their bean produce in the local grain market to meet other household needs. Hence, bean production contributes to economic and food security for these households (PABRA, 2014).

Several nutritional benefits can be attributed to consumption of common bean (PABRA, 2014). For instance, incidents of diseases like cancer, diabetes or coronary heart disease can be reduced through regular consumption of common bean (Leterme, 2002). This is because common bean is low in fat and is cholesterol free. Once eaten, beans digest slowly causing low sustained increase in blood sugar. This slow digestion of common bean can also deter resurgence of hunger, reduce frequency of food intake and enhance weight-loss programs (Katungi et al., 2009).

Despite the numerous benefits and high potential demand for beans, low yields have been realized for this crop in western Kenya. The low yields can be attributed to among other reasons: the use of unimproved bean varieties as well as recycled seed accessed through the informal seed system. The seed production in the informal seed system is integrated in farmers’ cropping system and local grain market. Both local landrace and improved varieties (if any) are recycled and farmers keep on selecting preferred traits to advance into the subsequent seasons. Farmers also share seed among themselves and offload the surplus into local grain market.

The Crops Act (2013) places beans among schedule one crops. The crops listed under the schedule are presumed to have breeding programs requiring compulsory certification. Therefore, production and commercialization of bean seed is a reserve of legally recognized institutions and seed companies or licensed seed dealers. This implies that legally, bean seed should be accessed by farmers only through the formal seed system.

The formal seed delivery system entails defined model (Rubyogo et al., 2010) that leads to certified seeds of released crop varieties. They include germplasm development or breeding; variety release; bulking; distribution and marketing. The system is made up of public and private organizations with specialized roles in supplying seed of improved varieties. It guarantees clear distinction between seed and grain; maintenance of varietal identity and purity. The system ensures optimal physical, physiological and health quality of seed. In this system, marketing of certified seed is regulated. Formal seed system involves seed legislation and seed development. Seed legislation entails: regulations on variety release; quality standards on seed classes as well as quality control and seed certification. Seed development has to do with varietal breeding, testing and release; seed production, multiplication, processing and marketing.

Notwithstanding the stringent requirement to have bean seed accessed only through the formal seed system, the informal seed system remains the major source of bean seed. The informal system supplies up to 90% of seed requirement by smallholder farmers (Sperling and McGuire, 2010) – which confirms its dominance in bean seed supply, but raises several questions: (1) what informs farmers’ selection of seed source; (2) how do the farmers control seed quality both at source and on-farm?; and (3) how successful are the farmers in controlling seed quality?. The study sought to determine the reasons that underlie farmers’ preference for bean seed sources; investigate the methods used by the farmers for seed quality control in informal bean seed sources; as well as determine the nature and contribution of social networks in the informal seed sector.

Statement of the problem
Despite the existence of a formal seed system, the bean seed supply in Bondo Sub County has remained largely informal. The most distinct feature about this system is that it follows several localized pathways including own saved seed, neighboring farmers, local grain market (open-air assembly market) among other sources. Unfortunately, the quality of beans for seed exchanged through this system cannot be ascertained because it is embedded in a complex web of social networks without structures evident in formal system. Since the system has been in existence for a long period of time, it is likely that the nature of its networks contribute in some way to seed quality control. However, the role social networks play in seed quality control has not been assessed. Further, the factors that inform the farmers’ choice preferences for particular seed source(s) needed to be clearly understood. This study aimed to fill this knowledge gap.

Objectives of the study
General objective
The general objective of the study was to contribute to attainment of sustainable integrated bean seed system for enhanced access to quality seed by smallholder farmers and increased bean productivity.

The specific objectives were to:
1. Characterize bean farmers in Bondo sub county

2. Determine the methods used for quality control in informal bean seed sources

3. Determine the nature and contribution of social networks in seed quality control

4. Determine factors influencing farmers’ preferences for seed sources

Research questions
1. What are the socio-economic characteristics of smallholder bean farmers in Bondo sub-County?

2. What methods do farmers use in controlling bean seed quality?

3. What is the nature and contribution of social networks in seed quality control?

4. What factors influence farmers’ preferences for bean seed sources?

Justification of the study
Understanding the choice preference for seed sources is useful in unpacking farmers’ perception of seed quality and whether quality matters when choosing seed source. This provides insights into the basis for dominance of the informal seed sector in the supply of bean seed to the smallholder farmers; as well as helps in understanding how this system thrives in a legal setup that expressly upholds the formal seed system. Furthermore, isolating the mechanisms by which farmers control quality in the informal seed sector is useful in several ways: the results help to identify the abilities or otherwise of these farmers to guarantee sustained supply of good quality bean seed. Determining the nature of social networks is useful in making recommendations for possible designing of locally-based bean seed system to utilize farmer-to-farmer linkages within the networks. It is hoped that where applicable, the results of the study will be out scaled to other legumes under schedule one of the Kenya seed act (2013).

Scope and limitations of the study
The study focused on smallholder farmers engaging in bean production. Large farm holders and were not included in the study.

Due to budgetary and time constraints as well as accessibility concerns, the study was confined to four sub-locations. This left out several smallholder bean farmers who may have had equally useful information.

Definition of terms
For the purpose of the study, the following terms were used. However, it is worth noting that the terms were used to fit the purpose of the study and may not necessarily adhere to the conventional definitions.

Seed: grains of plants used for sowing, normally capable of germination to produce new plants and provide the means of establishing a new crop by farmers each season.

Seed quality: those characteristics including physical purity, health and size of bean seed perceived by farmers as potentially having influence on germination, growth, yield and marketability of bean produce.

Seed quality control: the process through which farmers ensure that desirable seed attributes or characteristics, as perceived by them, are maintained or enhanced.

Seed system: the entire complex of organizations, individuals and institutions associated with the development, multiplication, processing, storage, distribution and marketing or exchange of seed.

Informal seed system: a seed supply system integrated into the farmers’ farming system and where quality control is vested in the farmers.

Formal seed system: a system with well-defined procedures for development, distribution and access to certified seed of distinct varieties and stipulated quality.

Integrated seed system: a system that upholds coordinated actions between formal and informal seed sectors.

Smallholder farmers: defined in terms of size of land as those farmers who own less than two (2) hectares of land on which they reside, grow crops and also keep a few heads of livestock.

Bean productivity: a measure of efficiency of production expressed as the ratio of the total bean output (in tons) per unit of land cultivated (in hectares).

Social network: a number of farmers connected by communication ties through which they exchange seed related information.

Household: a number of people living together in the same house under the headship of one person known as the household head

Local grain dealer: a farmer who grows beans in his or her own farm and sells the produce to other farmers as seed

Seed treatment: those activities which are carried out by farmers with the aim of protecting bean seed from being destroyed by pests either after planting or during storage – they include application of chemicals or wood ash.

Cultural practices: those activities carried out in relation to bean production, harvesting and post-harvest management, which do not involve the use of commercial chemicals, but rely on traditional practices adopted from previous generations of farmers.

Harvesting: the act of removing either whole or part of the bean plant from the field after crop maturity.

Threshing: defined as the act of removing bean grain from the pods after harvesting by picking the pods or uprooting the whole bean plant at maturity.

Season: the cycle followed in bean production from planting to harvesting and usually takes 10 to 12 weeks.

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