By Georgina Smith (CIAT)
New drought-resilient white beans – most commonly used to make baked beans – will be deployed to Ethiopia, as erratic weather threatens national production and farmers’ incomes. Severe drought in Ethiopia, Africa’s largest exporter of the bean used to make baked beans, could hit production for millions who cultivate and rely on income from the bean. The drought – the worst to hit the country’s bean-producing areas in 10 years, researchers report – has cut yields by 30 percent. Low rainfall at the height of the bean season in the Rift Valley can also reduce bean quality. Combined with other factors influencing the world price – the beans are exported mostly to Europe for canning –farmers are expected to less income and prices have already fallen. Transformed from a neglected staple into a cash crop, with exports worth more than US$90 million, the grain provides income for around three million smallholder farmers in Ethiopia who rely on white bean sales – known locally as “white gold”- to buy food and cover other costs like school fees. Thousands more are employed in postharvest processing of the beans for export. Drought during this stage of bean development could bring a major crisis for farmers, who won’t have cash to put food on the table. An international research network is preparing to deploy the latest drought-resilient bean varieties to Ethiopia, to be tested and evaluated by researchers at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR).