Africa given new hope against famine with ‘super beans’
Drought conditions continue to contribute to famine in Africa, prompting a search for crops that are not only drought-resistant but provide a high yield. A so-called “super bean” has been developed that may give hope to hunger-prone areas of Africa.
The “super beans,” are being described as “a fast-maturing, high-yield variety,” and the International Center For Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) claims the beans are “bred by conventional means to resist the drought conditions.” This means the beans are produced by conventional genetic selection and are not a genetically modified crop.
The CIAT, founded in 1967, is a non-profit research and development organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger while protecting natural resources in developing countries. CIAT runs two gene banks where the beans are bred, one located in Malawi in southern Africa and the other near Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
The gene bank in Uganda stores around 4,000 types of beans, including some sourced from neighboring Rwanda before its 1994 genocide killed almost one million people and destroyed many of that country’s bean varieties.
Aid workers are hoping the bean, “NABE15” will encourage refugees to grow their own food and rely less on help from short-handed relief organizations. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has contracted to source 21 tons of the NABE15 bean to South Sudanese refugees for planting purposes.
“The beans have to go through certain rigorous tests before they can be released to the general public, to make sure they do actually address all the issues well and perform well in different climatic conditions,” said Stanley Nkalubo, a research scientist from Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization.
Multi-stress tolerant bean varieties in Uganda
It has taken decades of research by CIAT to develop improved varieties of beans. This has been accomplished through the development and dissemination of new bean technologies in Africa in orchestration with the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).
How do they come up with stress-tolerant bean varieties CIAT bean researchers are developing a wide range of user-friendly molecular markers (especially SSRs) and have implemented “marker-assisted selection” for disease resistance.
They also aim to combine tolerance to various abiotic stresses (drought and poor soils) through the use of gene discovery, marker-assisted selection, and farmer participatory methods. The NABE15 beans were first tested in the central cattle corridor of Uganda, a region particularly exposed to dry spells.
Experts claim the red-stripped NABE15 bean is valuable for several reasons. Not only is it resilient to drought, but the beans also cook quickly and resist most crop-killing pests. And while the beans may not be invincible, officials are confident they will do very well.
“It’s very hard to breed any single bean variety with the very best of traits — early maturing, drought-tolerant, pest-tolerant, high micronutrients. That would be the super, super bean,” said Debisi Araba, the African head of the Center for Tropical Agriculture.
Araba adds, “But that’s what we are working toward. There are genetic editing tools available now that give scientists the ability to map out these genetic varieties and potentially we start looking at the possibility of breeding these super, super crops.”