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Heat- and Drought-Resistant Beans Developed in Latin America


1427295314-981_2At times when the world is trying to adjust and cope with the devastating consequences of climate change, scientists are developing heat resistant crops that can potentially prevent the world from starving.

Food security was outlined by the latest IPCC report as one of the most pressing issues that has to be addressed in light of the accelerating climate change. One of the biggest challenges in front of our society is to maintain the land in good enough condition so that it is still suitable for cultivation of staple crops that keep whole nations alive.

Unfortunately, rising temperatures not only affect soil water and nutrients content, but they also change the conditions under which crops grow. As a result, the total area that can be used for growing crops is drastically reduced.

Now, we have all heard about the plans and efforts of governmental bodies to commit to emission targets, and hopefully prevent temperatures from reaching the projected values. But scientists have estimated that a rise of only 2-3 °C could already affect food production to such extent that the crop cultivation of whole nations across Africa and Latin America will be irreversibly disrupted.

So, while new policies and regulations are being drafted by politicians, scientists are not wasting time sitting and waiting for something to happen. This is especially the case at the  International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Valle de Cauca (CIAT), in Colombia, where more than three hundred specialists are conducting ever-so-important food research, and protecting and protecting vital crops like cassava, rice and beans.

It is exactly there that an international team of enthusiastic scientists took on board the warnings, simulated possible scenarios and established that by 2050, it is highly likely that around half of the land suitable for growing beans will be lost. This alarming results mean that hundreds of millions of people, who rely on beans to survive, could potentially starve to death.

The team decided to take the matter in their own hands, and cross different types of beans to create temperature resistant crops. Steve Beeb, the head of CIAT’s bean breeding programme, was the person, who dedicated numerous sleepless nights to finding the most suitable bean variety that can resist heat and drought.

The hard work eventually paid off, and Beeb, together with his team, was able to produce the ultimate cross-breed bean that can resist temperature increase of at least 3°C rise, sometimes even surviving  4°C rise and more. The successful crop was a cross between common modern days bean varieties, and the tepary bean, typically found long time ago in Mexico and American southwest.

But is cross-breeding the solution to our food security problem? Maybe, or at least it could be a quick fix for something that will take long time before it is tackled at the source. I guess, it is our best bet at this stage, and the question whether these crops count as GMOs we should probably leave for later.

Image (c) CIAT

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