The earth is warming. This will certainly require new food crops that can adapt to the changing climate and resource constraints. The latest hope centers on beans being grown in test plots at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in the nation of Colombia. They thrive in temperatures that might make other varieties shrivel.
These “heat-beater” beans are the result of tradition and technology…and a project that began about 20 years ago. A Colombian scientist named Alvaro Mejia-Jimenez came up with the idea to cross-breed the common bean and something called the tepary bean, traditionally grown by indigenous groups in the southwest U.S., and known for its ability to tolerate heat and drought. But few saw a great need for the project, until a few years ago.
CIAT carried out a study of the potential effect of rising temperatures on bean production, and its experts were shocked. “It looked like we could lose 50 percent of our cropping area in one generation, by mid-century,” says [Steve] Beebe. This could be a disaster for the estimated 400 million people around the world who rely heavily on beans for nourishment.