25 March 2015

Research and biodiversity can help us reduce the negative impact of climate change: the case of beans

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are an essential source of protein in our diets and among the top protein source that is not from an animal origin. It comes as a fundamental ingredient in traditional food in a large number of countries. In Africa and Latin America, beans are particularly important, especially for the poorer sections of the population. This is why, sometimes, beans have been called the ‘‘meat of the poor’’. It is estimated that beans contribute to the daily diet of more than 400 million people across the world. Besides providing protein, they also add into the diet very much needed fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and micronutrients. Consuming beans is also known to reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease and diabetes.

The bad news on beans is that there has been fear that bean production would suffer a great deal from climate change, as they generally are very vulnerable to rise in temperature and to drought. Simulations conducted by researchers concluded that, with current varieties, the area suited for bean production would have shrink up to 50% by about 2050.

The good news is that researchers from the CGIAR (Global partnership for research for a food secure future) have identified around 30 elite lines of beans that show strong tolerance to temperatures 4 °C higher than the range that beans can normally tolerate. With those heat-tolerant beans, the reduction of areas suited for bean production would be only 5%, even when assuming that the tolerant beans can handle a temperature rise of only 3°C. In some places, with the use of these varieties, the areas potentially suitable for bean production could even be larger than so far estimated.

Many of the new heat-tolerant beans developed by the CGIAR scientists are based on the crossing of common beans with particularly hardy bean varieties found in an area that is now part of northern Mexico and the American southwest.

This is another illustration that spending resources on research can generate very high benefits and that biodiversity is a key resource that needs to be protected for our future. It is only because these hardy beans varieties still exist in some rural areas and have not yet been wiped out by commercial varieties that it has been possible to produce these new heat-resistant beans. And it is only because disinterested public researchers have tried to combine them with common beans, that these new varieties will be widely available to poor farmers.

No need to rely on patented GMOs for which farmers need to pays high prices to large private seed multinationals!

This is a case on which we need to meditate.

Let’s hope that similar progress will be achieved for other essential food crops!


To know more

  1. -CGIAR press release : Discovery of beans that can beat the heat could save “meat of the poor” from global warming, 25 March 2015

  2. -CGIAR report: Developing Beans that Can Beat the Heat, March 2015


Last update:    March 2015

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