Beans, packed with minerals and fiber, have long sustained Africans with essential protein and offered farmers significant revenue. However, the looming threat of climate change endangers this crucial food source. By the century’s close, around 60% of bean-producing regions in sub-Saharan Africa might be rendered unsuitable, as per a 2016 report.
Addressing this challenge, the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) has spearheaded the introduction of over 650 innovative bean types across the continent. For its pivotal role in enhancing food security and farmer incomes, PABRA received the African Food Prize, amounting to $100,000, this past September.
From Zambia’s sugar beans to Nigeria’s snap beans, these novel bean varieties, available in 32 African countries, are not only nutrition-rich but also more adaptable and lucrative for cultivators, PABRA reports.
Innovative Beans Make Waves
In Ethiopia, Jean Claude Rubyogo, PABRA’s director, notes that beans with quicker harvest cycles have boosted productivity twofold. He elaborates that this provides an early food source and a timely income for farmers amidst other crops’ harvest seasons.
With these beans consuming less water and being more resistant to erratic climatic conditions, approximately 37 million African farmers see increased earnings.
PABRA, headquartered in Cali, Colombia, partners with Africa-based national programs to choose and evolve specific bean variants catering to consumer needs. About 300 million individuals in Africa frequently consume these protein-rich beans. Besides their protein content, they’re also abundant in vital minerals like iron and zinc, the lack of which affects billions globally, states the World Health Organization.
Due to these superior beans, over five million households in 10 African countries have witnessed income growth by 30%. Moreover, those cultivating, consuming, and trading PABRA’s beans have a 6% higher food security rate and are 6% less prone to poverty.
Diversifying for a Sustainable Future
Chike Mba, deputy director at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, emphasizes the importance of a diversified bean portfolio for Africa’s agrarian evolution and long-term viability. He points out that nearly a fifth of sub-Saharan Africa grapples with malnutrition and food scarcity. Overcoming this requires a broader crop spectrum, beans included.
Recent global events, like the Coronavirus pandemic and the Ukrainian conflict, disrupted Africa’s rice and grain imports, underscoring the need for food diversification. Mba advocates for governmental support in research, technological accessibility for farmers, and fostering global collaborations.
Governments actively partake in PABRA’s endeavors. As Rubyogo explains, while PABRA bridges the gap between creators and users, the local initiatives are governed by state-established research entities. The overarching goal for nations, he states, is to uplift nutrition standards, economically strengthen women, and boost their economy.
On the horizon, PABRA aims to curtail bean cooking duration by nearly 30%, potentially saving consumers around $1.5 billion annually. However, Rubyogo underscores the paramount importance of addressing climate change and the urgency of in-depth research. He concludes, “The real impact is felt when these innovations reach those most in need.”