The recent discovery of a variety of heat-resistant beans is promising to save the humble bean from devastation in the face of climate change.
For centuries beans have been a crucial food for hundreds of millions of people around the world. In Africa and Latin America they are a staple crop, and sometimes a community’s only reliable source of protein.
But researchers say with global temperatures expected to rise by up to four degrees in coming years, the bean could be at risk. A bean researcher for food security research group CGIAR, Steve Beebe, said because beans originated in a relatively cool climate, the effects of global warming could be devastating.
“Beans are going to be under a lot of heat stress in the future if we are not careful. We calculate that within a generation, if we do not get moving, we could lose up to 50 percent of the bean area around the world,” he stated.
Beans are more vulnerable to higher temperatures than other staple crops like cassava and maize, he said.
But on Wednesday CGIAR announced that it had discovered a new variety of heat-resistant bean that can handle temperatures several degrees higher than normal beans.
A cross with the tepary bean, a small variety once grown by Native Americans, this new strain of “heat-beater” beans can handle nighttime temperatures of up to 23 degrees, whereas most bean crops will start to fail at 18 or 19 degrees, said Beebe.
“It is a species that is naturally adapted to high temperatures. We had some interspecific crosses sitting on the shelf, and when we started realizing what we are up against with rising temperatures we pulled them off the shelf. That is where we found most of the really promising heat tolerance that we are working into the breeding program pretty much across the board,” Beebe explained.
The next step, he said, is to introduce heat tolerance into a range of beans already familiar to consumers, then to distribute them to partners in Africa and Latin America.
CGIAR is also trying to breed bean varieties that would be more tolerant of drought or flooding, as well as working to boost their iron content to make them more nutritious.