Amidst fears that global warming could zap a vital source of protein that has sustained humans for centuries, CGIAR bean breeders announced today the discovery of 30 new types, or lines as plant breeders refer to them, of “heat-beater” beans that could keep production from crashing in large swaths of bean-dependent Latin America and Africa.

Often called the “meat of the poor” for the affordable protein it provides, the crop is a vital foundation of food security for more than 400 million people in the developing world. Beans are a highly nutritious food, offering protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and other micronutrients. In addition to heat tolerance, experts from the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes are simultaneously breeding for higher iron content to enhance the beans’ nutritional value.

“This discovery could be a big boon for bean production because we are facing a dire situation where, by 2050, global warming could reduce areas suitable for growing beans by 50 percent,” said Steve Beebe, a senior CGIAR bean researcher.

“Incredibly, the heat-tolerant beans we tested may be able to handle a worst-case scenario where the build-up of greenhouse gases causes the world to heat up by an average of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. “Even if they can only handle a 3 degree rise, that would still limit the bean production area lost to climate change to about five percent. And farmers could potentially make up for that by using these beans to expand their production of the crop in countries like Nicaragua and Malawi, where beans are essential to survival.”

CGIAR researchers had previously warned that rising temperatures were likely to disrupt bean production in Nicaragua, Haiti, Brazil, and Honduras, while in Africa, those warnings had focused on Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the most vulnerable, followed by Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

“As a result of this breakthrough, beans need not be the casualty of global warming that they seemed destined to be, but rather can offer a climate-friendly option for farmers struggling to cope with rising temperatures,” said Andy Jarvis, a CGIAR climate change expert.

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