With the planet headed toward a certainly much warmer future, beans—and the people who rely on them for protein—are in peril. But bean breeders have announced the development of 30 new varieties that could survive a "worst-case" climate change scenario.
Photo via Flickr user jpwbee
We're not going to beat around the desiccated bush and pretend like climate change isn't a real thing that's changing the face of our planet this very second.
Changes in the planet's temperature and rainfall are predicted to alter the sugar levels and vitamin content of our fruits, vegetables and grains. California is so bone-dry with drought that rice farmers are selling their groundwater back to the state. Cows are literally too hot to fuck.
This is bad news all around.
But some bean breeders think that they may have a fix for our certainly Waterworld-esque future. The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recently announced the development of 30 types of "heat-beater" beans that could provide precious protein to meat-starved populations. CGIAR presented its findings at a development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"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, in a press release.
Beebe noted that these beans could potentially survive "a worst-case scenario" in which the planet's temperature rises by an average of of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) due to greenhouse gas buildup.
That might not sound like much of an increase, but every degree is critical. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average surface temperature across the US has continuously risen since 1901, with a marked increase from the 1970s to the present, with 2012 being the hottest year on record. As most plants have evolved to thrive only within certain temperature thresholds, even a few degrees' difference can eventually spell famine—especially in areas with populations that depend on legumes, like Latin America and Africa.
Most of the beans developed by CGIAR are "crosses" of well-known varieties—including pinto, white, black, and kidney beans—with the hardy but relatively obscure tepary bean, a drought-resistant legume native to the Southwest US and Central America.
"We confirmed that 30 heat-tolerant [bean varieties] are productive even with night-time temperatures above 22 degrees Celsius (about 72 degrees Fahrenheit)," Beebe said. "Normally, bean yields start to falter when the temperatures exceed 18 or 19 degrees Celsius (about 64 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit)."
In fact, CGIAR researchers tested some of the varieties (or "lines") in dry conditions in Costa Rica, where they produced more than twice the volume of beans that other farmers in the area could grow.
Even if you don't rely on beans to survive, this is excellent news for our polar-ice-cap-free future. Look forward to slurping a lot of seven-layer dip through your gills.