As drought conditions continue to contribute to famine in Africa, agriculture experts have turned to what are being called “super beans,” which have the ability to grow in the driest locations to help supplement hampered resources through genetic manipulation. They have been described as “a fast-maturing, high-yield variety,” and offer new hope for hunger-prone areas of the continent.
The International Center For Tropical Agriculture claims the beans are “bred by conventional means to resist the drought conditions,” according to the Associated Press. The organization runs two “gene banks” where the beans are bred, one located in Malawi in southern Africa and the other near Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where 1 million refugees have migrated from war-torn South Sudan.
Aid workers hope the bean, “NABE15,” will embolden refugees to grow their own food and rely less on help provided by short-handed organizations. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization inked a deal expected to source 21 tons of the bean to South Sudanese refugees for planting purposes.
“The beans have to go through certain rigorous tests before they can be released to the general public, to make sure they do actually address all the issues well and perform well in different climatic conditions,” said Stanley Nkalubo, a research scientist from Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization.
Experts claim that the red-striped super beans are valuable not only for its resilience but the ability to cook quickly and resist most crop-killing pests. The beans aren’t invincible, but experts say they are confident of the bean’s potential.
“It’s very hard to breed any single bean variety with the very best of traits — early maturing, drought-tolerant, pest-tolerant, high micronutrients. That would be the super, super bean,” said Debisi Araba, the African head of the Center for Tropical Agriculture. “But that’s what we are working toward. There are genetic editing tools available now that give scientists the ability to map out these genetic varieties and potentially we start looking at the possibility of breeding these super, super crops.”
Famine remains a global concern, according to report released this month by Relief Web. An estimated 76 million people across 45 counties will need emergency food assistance during 2018. Four countries, including Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria all face famine, due to factors such as conflict and below-average rainfall.