CIAT preserves the world’s largest and most diverse collection of beans. Most of the germplasm originates in the Neotropics where beans where domesticated thousand of years ago. Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala are particularly well represented. The collection also contains important diversity from Europe and Africa and, to a lesser extent, Asia. Beans display an impressive array of colors, textures and tastes. Plants range from bushes to climbing vines, both annual or perennial. Some beans require hours of preparation, while others, like the popping beans known as “nuñas”, don’t even need water to cook.
Beans can be grown from sea level to over 3,000 meters in a variety of climates and soils; some take only two months from sowing to harvest, while others can take several years before producing grains. They are commonly intercropped with other crops in traditional farming systems.
Often referred to as “the meat of the poor,” beans provide a crucial and environmentally sustainable source of protein and micronutrients as well as income for millions of people, particularly in Africa and Latin America. Through bio-fortification, CIAT and partners have increased the iron and zinc content of beans to reduce malnutrition. Scientists are working to combine nutritious traits with climate-resilience, as research shows that breeding beans for heat tolerance could improve the suitability of 7.2 million hectares of farmland for bean cultivation in a changing climate.
Countries of origin
Bean germplasm distributed since 1973
37,390 accessions (441,225 samples) distributed to 105 countries
Genebanks are vulnerable to many risks, ranging from natural disasters or war to funding shortfalls. Something as mundane as an undetected breakdown of a seed vault can affect an entire collection. The loss of a crop collection would be as irreversible as the extinction of the dinosaurs. That’s why CIAT is producing and shipping duplicates (backups) of the entire bean collection to two off-site storage facilities, one at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and another one at CIMMYT, our partner CGIAR Center in Mexico.
of bean collection backed-up in Svalbard
of bean collection backed-up at CIMMYT
Using germplasm in CIAT’s genebank, bean breeders have developed varieties with 60% more iron, an essential nutrient particularly for pregnant women. These varieties – referred to as BIO101 and BIO107 – also contain 50% more zinc – a micronutrient vital for a strong immune system. They are not only more nutritious, they also produce good yields and are of the shape, size and color preferred by farmers in Colombia. A trial among young women in Rwanda has confirmed that such bio-fortified, high-iron beans indeed reduce iron deficiency and anemia.
Hurricane Mitch has wiped out up to 70 percent of the Central American countries’ basic food crops. Seeds stocks of local bean varieties in Honduras and Nicaragua were lost, but could be re-introduced using germplasm preserved at CIAT’s genebank. This helped the countries restore production in the hurricane’s aftermath.
By crossing common bean varieties with terpary bean accessions adapted to dry climates, CIAT scientists have developed ‘heat-beater’ beans that can tolerate up to 3°C higher temperatures. This is a major contribution towards climate-proofing bean production in Africa and Latin America.
Today, improved climbing beans, developed from materials in the genebank, are planted on more than half of Rwanda’s bean-production area, a 45% increase since 1985. In the last decade, the country has been transformed from a net importer to an exporter, as yields have increased from 0.7 to 1.1 tons per hectare.