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Biofortified beans tackle hidden hunger in Colombian coffee fields

Article-Biofortified beans tackle hidden hunger in Colombian coffee fields

© iStock/andresr Biofortified beans tackle hidden hunger in Colombian coffee fields
Unlocking the potential of sustainable agriculture, three biofortified bean varieties have been released in Colombia, promising resilience to drought and the ability to combat hidden hunger.

For the four million Colombians dependent on coffee cultivation and earning less than $2 a day, hidden hunger – the presence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies is a daily reality.

Three biofortified pulse/bean varieties – BIO103-SGA, BIO105-SGA, and BIO109-SGA – have been introduced in a collaborative effort between the National Coffee Research Centre (Cenicafé), the Alliance of Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and Semillas Guerrero y Asociados.

Specifically designed for intercropping with coffee, these beans not only promise higher yields with their bushy growth habit but also hold the potential to address hidden hunger among coffee farmers.

Nutrient-rich beans for optimal brain health

Micronutrient deficiencies impact a significant portion of the global population. A 2022 study highlighted in an article by Vitafoods Insights suggests that one out of two preschool-aged children and two out of three women of reproductive age worldwide are affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Varying in size, shape, and colour, the three bean varieties aim to address micronutrient deficiencies in Colombia by providing more than sustenance.

María Carolina González, PhD research scientist and team leader at Biofortified Crop, told Vitafoods Insights: “The three released varieties focused on the micronutrient zinc, which helps the neurocerebral development of children from zero to five years old, pregnant women and increases people's defences.

Providing up to 39% of the daily iron requirement and 41% of the zinc requirement, they stand as nutritional powerhouses – 1.5 times richer in minerals than conventional beans.

Utilising traditional, non-GM plant crossbreeding techniques and field evaluations, these biofortified beans showcase not only their nutritional richness but also their adaptability to coffee intercropping.

"Planting beans intercropped with coffee does not interfere with coffee development," said González. "[It] allows farmers to improve their food and nutritional security by consuming more nutritious food, while providing them with an alternative source of income during the growing phases of the coffee crop."

Sustainability in every biofortified bean

Extending beyond addressing hidden hunger, these beans contribute to sustainability. González said: “As legumes, beans help to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which improves soil fertility.

The beans, with tolerance to certain pests, diseases, and drought, align with the changing climate patterns in Colombian agriculture. González explained that these features reduce the need for chemical inputs, minimising the environmental impact.

Discussing the crossbreeding process, she said: These lines were generated using a traditional breeding method. The method was a three-way cross and advanced for six generations by selfing.”

This process, spanning eight to ten years, involves advanced line generation, agronomic trait identification, molecular tools, farmer condition testing, and the final release.

© iStock/RmcarvalhoBiofortified beans tackle hidden hunger in Colombian coffee fields

Through crossbreeding and extensive field evaluations, these biofortified beans cater to the diverse needs of over half a million coffee-growing families across 23 Colombian departments, covering approximately 842,000 hectares.

Beyond addressing immediate nutritional needs, the initiative emphasises a broader perspective, integrating climate-resilient crops into the farming landscape. With a bushy growth habit that requires fewer inputs, these beans contribute to overall agricultural sustainability, reducing production costs.

As the project envisions the commercialisation of surplus beans, it isn't just about income improvement for coffee growers.

González said: “The release of these varieties was carried out in conjunction with a private agent, which will allow their availability and commercialisation.

“The biofortified programme of the Alliance Bioversity – CIAT does a lot of work in promoting and disseminating biofortified varieties, which results in farmers being able to know and use them so that more families can access more nutritious foods.