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Better Common Bean Production Would Boost Global Food Security

10 December 2012
Hand holding beans over rows of different colored beans (USDA)

This photo shows the diversity of dry beans, including pinto, great northern, black and kidney.

Washington — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) December 7 awarded five grants totaling $4.5 million in support of research to improve the production of the common bean, a main staple produced throughout food insecure areas of the world, including East and southern Africa.

The awards were made by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID provided the funds for the grants.

“Over the next 50 years, we will need to produce roughly as much food for the world's population as has been produced in the entire history of mankind,” said Catherine Woteki, USDA's chief scientist and under secretary for research, education and economics. “A challenge this serious and urgent requires the best and brightest ideas in food and agricultural science. The projects awarded today have the potential to unlock those ideas and improve the production of one of the world's most vital food crops.”

The funded projects will work to address challenges to common bean production faced by small-holder producers. The program is part of the governmentwide Feed the Future Initiative, President Obama's whole-of-government global hunger and food security initiative that supports country-driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty and forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and undernutrition.

The partnership is also part of the USAID-USDA Norman Borlaug Commemorative Research Initiative, which addresses food security needs by linking U.S. research and scientific innovations to effective adaptations in the fields across developing countries.

“This new research will help us solve critical production and disease constraints in common bean, the most important grain legume in human diets,” said Julie Howard, chief scientist with USAID's Bureau for Food Security. “Because common bean is the primary staple crop for over 200 million Africans and cultivated mostly by women, the potential impact of more productive, disease-resistant varieties on household nutrition and incomes in our Feed the Future countries is substantial. We are pleased to support this collaborative approach to tackling some of the most challenging problems affecting legume productivity, one of Feed the Future's primary research themes.”

The five projects awarded today will provide research for two core focus areas:

• Reducing production constraints from soilborne pathogens: Soilborne pathogen pressure on the common bean is a significant constraint to production. Such pathogens and associated root rots significantly reduce production in areas with high rainfall. As rainfall increases, as is expected around the equatorial zone in Africa, in particular East Africa, pathogen-related production constraints may become even more prevalent. The goal of the project is to provide a package of approaches, such as new seed varieties coupled with culturally and economically relevant crop and soil management methods, to small-holder common bean producers in Africa.

• Improving transformation technologies in the common bean: Although success in transforming the common bean has been limited to date, USDA said, new research shows that it is a promising strategy that can overcome the key production constraints. NIFA-funded projects will work to developed new methods that can achieve improvements in common bean breeding practices to integrate the desired quality traits into new breeds.

Funding in fiscal year 2012 was awarded to the following institutions:

• Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $250,000 — Routine and reproducible transformation system for the common bean.

• Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, $1,900,000 — Developing and delivering common bean germplasm with resistance to the major soil borne pathogens in East Africa.

• University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, $250,000 — Development of transgenic beans for broad-spectrum resistance against fungal diseases.

• University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, $1,100,000 — Genetic approaches to reducing fungal and Oomycete soilborne problems of the common bean breeds in eastern and southern Africa.

• Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $1,000,000 — Improving bean yields by reversing soil degradation and reducing soil borne pathogens on small-holder farms in western Kenya.

Man looking at plants in greenhouse (AP Images/Michigan State University)

This undated photo released by Michigan State University shows Jim Kelly, a professor of crop and soil sciences. The university is one of five grantees for research to improve common bean production methods.