Biotechnology boosts yields of high-protein African bean

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African scientists are using the tools of biotechnology to improve climate resilience and yields of protein-rich African beans.

Scientists at the Center for Genetic Resources at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are using marker-assisted breeding and other biotechnology tools, along with conventional plant breeding, to add traits such as cooking time shorter, high yield, disease resistance and early maturity. bean.

The improved crop will be able to provide food and nutrition security, income generation for farmers and employment for women and youth, the researchers said.

“The application of biotechnology to the African yam bean, whose high protein content makes it a better food source than maize, sweet potatoes or cassava, will lead to increased yields, which will ultimately help resource-poor rural and semi-rural communities in West Africa are achieving resilience to climate stresses,” said Gideon Enofe, a Nigerian researcher.

He noted that promoting soil fertility through nitrogen fixation is one of the most important virtues of the yam bean. Many smallholder farmers in Africa struggle with soil fertility issues and cannot afford synthetic fertilizers or livestock manure.

“Landraces of the crop are already available, but improved varieties will be available in one to three years,” Dr. Oyatomi Olaniyi, seed bank manager at the Center, told the Science Alliance.

Last year, Nigerian agriculture and food industry experts said yam bean could be used to alleviate malnutrition in times of food scarcity and could fill gaps in food, nutrition and livelihoods. subsistence if policies are put in place to establish sustainable value chains and export markets for the pulse.

The African yam bean produces two valuable products – edible seeds and tubers – which are important in most native African food cultures. It is especially popular in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Central Africa.

In a recent paper, researchers from IITA and Covenant University in Nigeria and the University of Ibadan noted that biotechnology-assisted breeding of African yam bean is imperative for developing crops that offer better yields to smallholder farmers, resistance to diseases such as leaf mosaic and powdery mildew and reduced cooking time.

African yam bean in its flowering (a), pod forming (b), pod ripening (c), tuber (d) and seed coat color stages. Image: IITA Genetic Resource Center

Genome editing, proteomics and bioinformatics – tools previously used to improve other popular legume crops such as soybeans and cowpeas in West Africa – could be used on yam bean, the researchers found. researchers.

Several West African researchers and plant breeders argue that crop breeding will help diversify sub-Saharan Africa’s food base and lead to the sustainability of farming systems in many parts of West and Central Africa.

In another paper, the researchers said improving the African yam bean through robust innovative approaches, including accelerated research, would support its use as a climate-smart crop to cushion the impact of climate change on vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

In West Africa, many research centers have already introduced the plant into their cropping systems.

The IITA Genetic Resource Center in Idaban, Nigeria, partnered with farmers and researchers last year to identify 11 African yam bean accessions (varieties) that could be improved.

Dr. Morufat Balogun, a geneticist at IITA, reportedly said the partnership was part of the institute’s efforts to make African yam a valuable crop.

Currently, the Alliance for Accelerated Crop Improvement in Africa (ACACIA) is undertaking crop genome sequencing, which the WE LEAD food program says could be the solution to the growing problem of food insecurity. food in Africa.

Image: Yam bean in cultivation. Photo: Underutilized African Yam Society


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