Discover the tremendous legume diversity in Kenya

Author: Lydiah Nyambura (Seed Savers Network Kenya)


Legumes or pulses are under cultivation on a considerable area countrywide. Their higher protein content and symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules enable them to fix their own nitrogen, thus reducing the fertiliser use in agriculture. This is important for the production systems reducing the requirements of inorganic commercial fertilisers. Legumes are valued for their multiple uses as food, green manure, fodder and cover crops. In Kenya many types of legumes are grown in various parts of the country. However, common legumes cultivated are common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), Green grams/Mung bean (Vigna radiata), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) and Lentils (Lens culinaris).

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Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and Lablab (Lablab purpureus) in Kenya: description of the main varieties

The common bean is the legume most commonly incorporated in different cropping systems in Kenya. It is mainly grown together with maize for subsistence and commercial purposes. The main bean production areas in the country are Eastern, central, western, and Nyanza provinces at altitudes varying from 1500 to 2500 m above sea level. Like other legumes, beans provide dietary protein and contribute to the maintenance of soil fertility. The common bean accounts for 10 % of the proteins consumed in the country. 

Varieties available and documented in Kenya are the following

Rose coco      Rosecoco Beans – 5kg – Dalima FoodsLarge cream-coloured seeds with red flecks. The plant is tall, erect, and very vigorous with flat pods. Prefers medium altitude zone, tolerant to common bean Mosaic virus and anthracnose.
Mwezi moja Simlaw Seeds Co. Ltd on Twitter: "@KangetheJosphat This bean variety can do  well in semi-dry areas, has a potential yield of 8-10 bags per acre, seed  rate of 30kg per acre." /Large beige or light brown grains, speckled purple. Long broad pods. It’s a medium yielder that performs best in warmer areas. Well adapted for planting during the short rains
Chelelang Bean/wonder bean C:\Users\Hp 1040\Desktop\nancy photo\download.jfifMedium to high altitude variety known to have root-rot tolerance.  Commercial improved variety.
Mwitemania bean Mwitemania (GLP92) | Beans | Agroduka Cream seeds with black-brown spots. Spreading growth habit. Nearly flat spots which contain oval seeds. Prefers the medium altitude and is tolerant to drought and halo blight diseases. 
Yellow bean C:\Users\Hp 1040\Desktop\nancy photo\yellow-beans.jpgHas long vines. Seed is large kidney shaped and produce 
Black beanBlack Turtle Bean.jpgJet-black seeds. Upright growth,well adaptable in dry areas. Said to be highly nutritious due to its black colour.
Red haricot beans/wairimu beanHaricot Beans Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | ShutterstockAn extra early bean type that performs well in most ecological zones but suited to medium to dry areas. Good for intercropping. Excellent eating qualities 
Common bean/Red kidney beanKidney Beans Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | ShutterstockMost red kidney beans are indeterminate while others are determinate. Grow to average height of 35-40 cm and flower in 30-55 days depending on variety and altitude flower color. Flower colour is different for each variety: (white or light pink)Uniform flowering and maturity times. Matures within 60-120 days depending on altitude. Grains are either purple or dark red, long, oblong and round. Potential yields are 1400 -2000kg/ha (7-10 bags/acre) ; some varieties have grains that cook fast and taste sweet. 
Black Dolichos bean (species: Lablab purpureus)Dolicos – Seed Exchange KenyaA  multipurpose crop grown as pulse and vegetables and producing up to 10 tonnes per hectare of green matter which serves as green manure. This hardy legume has no enemies (pests and diseases), doesn’t require any fertiliser and fetches high prices in the market. Used by lactating mothers due to its said high nutrition. 

Pigeon pea varieties in Kenya and their characteristics (Cajanus cajan)

Pigeon pea is a multipurpose grain legume extensively used for food, animal feed and green manure for soil amelioration. It grows well in areas with less than 1000mm of annual rainfall (Okoko et al., 2002). Eastern, coast and central provinces are the major pigeon pea growing areas of Kenya. About 90% of the total area under pigeon peas is in the eastern province.

VarietyMaturity Period (days)Potential  yield (90 kg bags/acre)Characteristics
Brown MbaaziFood Business Africa | Mozambique to exports 200,000 tonnes of pigeon peas  to India half of the set import quota135-1505-7 for one season (13 for 2 season)Grains are white with brown spots and smaller seed size than local varieties. Grows between 0-1800 m above sea level and perform where temperatures are high. Torelant to fusarium wilt and leaf spot diseases. Susceptible to pod sucking bugs and pod borers
Njugu cia Gikuyu cream170-1856-11Tolerant to wilt, pod sucking bugs and pods borers. Cream white grain with large brown patches. Adapted to medium and higher altitudes.
Njugu kumbwa160-1806-10Oval white seeds. Adapted to medium and higher altitudes (above 900 m above sea level).
Mbaazi mwezi1204 for one season, 8 for 2 seasonIt is grown in the same range of altitude as KAT 60/82 but is more adapted to the more humid coastal zones. Performs best stand in dense diversity.
Mbaazi-2150-1804 in one seasonGrows between 600 and 900 m above sea level. Grain greenish in colour. Should be grown as a pure stand.
Mbaazi150-1806Adapted to medium and high altitudes (900-1800 m). Grain greyish in colour. Tolerant to insect pests and fusarium wilt.
Mbaazi 90-1056Performs well at all altitudes 10-1500 m. Grain greyish in colour.

Green gram varieties in Kenya and their characteristics (Vigna radiata)

Green gram (mung bean) is an important crop in the warm parts of eastern Kenya, where it is grown for both subsistence and as a cash crop (Shakoor et al, 1984). Dry grain is used for food and its grain protein content varies from 21 to 29 % depending on the variety and environment where the crop has been grown. Mung bean is generally free from flatulence-inducing factors that are common in many grain legumes. It is able to grow in adverse conditions and can escape drought through its early maturing ability. Some varieties are perhaps more resistant to drought than cowpeas (Waite et al., 1984).

Variety NameNameMaturity 
Ndengu Tosha M-Farm · Green GramsNdengu Tosha60-70 days
KaremboNdengu karembo65-75  days
BiasharaNdengu Biashara60-75 days


Cowpea varieties in Kenya and their characteristics (Vigna unguiculata)

Cowpea is an annual or bi-annual grain legume commonly referred to as Kunde. In Kenya, it is the third most important grain legume, after beans and pigeon pea, and covers about 18000 ha, excluding the cowpea grown in home gardens (Muthamia and kanampiu, 1996). About 85% of the total area under cowpea is in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALS) of eastern province and 15% in the coast, western, and central provinces. Cowpea is used for food, fodder, and as a source of income. Leaves, young pods, and grain are the parts of the plant used for food. The same plant parts are sold to generate cash for farmers. Cowpea has the ability to tolerate drought and fix atmospheric N, which allows it to grow and improve poor soils as it has a well-developed deep root system and grows well under drought conditions (Shakoor et al, 1984; Muruli et al., 1980).

VarietyMaturity daysTarget areas of productionRemarks
Machakos 66 higher altitude 1200-1500m above sea level Creamy brown grain. Good for intercropping. Moderately tolerant to septoria leaf spot.
KatumaniKenya Agricultural Research Institute Ksh. 20


Drier areasGrain creamy brown. Can be used as vegetable or seeds. Resistant to Aphids. Tolerant to fungal Mosaic.
White-flowered varietyCowpea - Wikipedia75-85All areasA drought tolerant bushy cowpea growing well in a wide range of soils conditions. Prefers sandy soil.
Black cowpeasIndian Black Crowder Cowpeas, No Artificial Flavour, Rs 80 /kilogram | ID:  1549506174885-95Medium higher altitudeSeeds feature kidney shape and. Their skin is cream-white with a white hilum surrounded by black pink or light-red stain. They shell easily and shelled peas are attractive, mid flavoured and suitable

Chickpea varieties in Kenya and their characteristics (Cicer arietinum)

Chickpea is a relatively new crop grown by smallholder farmers in Kenya in dry areas of Eastern Kenya and dry highlands of rift valley provinces. Recent surveys indicate that local accessions have been cultivated in coastal and eastern parts of Kenya for the last 40 years (Kaloki, 2009). The crop has now spread in Kenya and adapted to varied agro-ecological zones such as dry highlands, medium altitudes and also in dry lowlands with an annual rainfall range of 250-550 mm per annum (Jaetzold and Schmidt, 1983; Kibe and Onyari et al., 2010)

Kabuli and DesiAll you wanted to know about Chickpea – My Favourite PastimeThese two varieties grow in Kenyan highlands, Desi contains smaller, darker seeds and has more of a rough coat. Kabuli is a larger, lighter colored bean with a smoother coat. Chickpeas come in a variety of colours- green, black, brown and red, although the most popular and recognized colour is beige.

Other legumes grown in Kenya:

Groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea)Also Known as peanuts. and locally known as ‘Njugu Karanga’. They are mainly grown by small-scale farmers in western Kenya areas with tropical climate for food and sale. There are two main varieties namely the runner type and the bunch type (Red Valencia). Bunch varieties are smaller, tastier and highly marketable varieties. They mature within 60-75 days. The runner is the larger variety and is preferred because of its high yield and matures within 90-100 days. They can both be eaten raw, roasted, made into peanut butters or boiled.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)It is also known as lucern (Fabaceae) widely known for hay, pasture or silage. It’s known for its tolerance to drought heat or cold for the remarkable productivity and quality of its herbage. The plant is also valued for its soil improvement and its use as cover crop and as green manure.
DesmodiumIt is a trailing or climbing perennial legume with small leaves and deep roots which in favourable conditions forms very dense ground cover. There are numerous varieties of desmodium but the two main varieties are the green-leafed and silver-leafed ones. Green- leafed is leafier with reddish brown to purplish spots on the upper surface of the leaves and reddish brown stems. Silver-leaved desmodium has stems and leaves covered in  dense hairs which makes them stick to hands and clothing. It has green and white leaves which are light green underneath. In Kenya it is used by local farmers to control maize stalk borer pest through a technology known as “push pull” method where Desmodium is grown between maize plants and napier grass  at maize field edges. Due to the smell of desmodium, the maize stalk borer flees from the maize field to the edges of the farm and from here they are bruised to death by spiky napier grass.
SesbaniaIt is a shrub which is short-lived and grows to a height of 8 m. In kenya it is found at the margin of freshwater lakes such as lake Baringo and lake Naivasha and in seasonal pods as it survives water logging. It torelates acid and saline soils. It is used as fodder and soil improvement by nitrogen fixation in soils.

Reference List

Mureithi, Joseph G ; Gachene, CKK ; Wamuongo, Jane W, 2003, Legume Cover Crops Research In Kenya:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013, Bulletin of Tropical legumes:

Oxfarm, Ultimate guide for beans farming in Kenya:

Farmbiz Africa, 2022, News To Raise Yields: 

Gachie Josphat, 2022, Beans Farming in Kenya:

FarmersTrend, 2016, Njahi (Dolichos) farming guide in Kenya: :// 

MkulimaTODAY, 2018, Beans farming in Kenya:

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, 2008, Grow improved beans for food and income:

Kenya seed company LTD, 2018, Beans gallery:

Pigeon pea:

Google, Pigeon peas varieties kenya: 

Google, Chickpeas varieties:

National Peanut Board, Peanuts in Kenya: My insights:

Maurice Rangoma, 2019, Desmodium fodder crop:,you%20would%20sweet%20potato%20vines

Agricultural Mechanization Research Institute, 2022, Sorghum:

Further articles