RCUK-CIAT Newton Fund: Physiological characterization of heat-tolerant bean genotypes in simulated future environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev


3.4 million Colombians are employed in primary agricultural production in rural areas on typical wages of less than four dollars per day. Common beans are a major source of protein and mineral nutrition in the diets of the rural poor, but climate vulnerabilities and the post-conflict transition from illicit to food crops mean that rapid introduction of climate-resilient bean varieties to new areas and growers are required.

This study will focus on heat tolerance, as rising temperatures have been predicted to impact very significantly on the areas of Colombia suitable for bean cultivation. A small number of highly heat tolerant bean genotypes have been identified in previous breeding work, and it is proposed to breed the heat tolerance trait from these primary sources into varieties with all the other characteristics needed for widespread acceptance and uptake. At present, the principal means to combine heat tolerance with other traits is via selection of breeding lines in field sites where stressful heat thresholds are normally reached. This process takes years and heat tolerance can be masked by other environmental factors simultaneously at play in the selection environment. The research proposed here involves detailed assessments of the growth and development of existing heat tolerant and susceptible beans under controlled conditions simulating future climates in target regions of Colombia including elevated carbon dioxide levels. By pinpointing in detail the vulnerabilities of susceptible lines and demonstrating mechanisms of tolerance that avoid yield losses, it will be possible in the future to breed for heat tolerance using better targeted selection criteria that will result in shorter breeding cycles and more rapid delivery of climate-smart bean varieties.

As the technologies for breeding new heat-tolerant varieties is developed, the study will also examine the potential economic impact of adoption of beans as a crop in new areas and by new growers, using socio-economic data on current and projected land use, food supply and price in a number of scenarios. It will further appraise the potential economic value of heat-tolerant bean varieties and the rate of return on the underpinning research under a range of adoption scenarios.

The alignment of climate and crop science aimed at more effective breeding for future climates with a socio-economic study of the conditions under which climate-resilient bean varieties can reap significant societal return on investment affords opportunities for the research agenda to be refined to maximise its real-world impact.

Planned Impact

The main intended impact of this project is to improve economic welfare and food security of Colombian bean growers in a changing climate, particularly ex-combattants and displaced populations. In order to make such an impact, technologies which have the potential to speed up bean breeding need to be adopted by the breeding community, and varieties which embody the most climate-resilient and marketable qualities must be adopted by traditional and new bean growers alike.

Therefore the impact-oriented activities in this proposal relate to initiating those critical technology transfer and adoption steps.

We expect the "simulated climate change" controlled environment experiments (at Reading) to provide a wealth of metabolomics and physiological data, which will be curated at searchable, publicly accessible database at the University of Reading. These data will be made available within 6 months of the end of the project, allowing sufficient time for the researchers to produce an integrative (open access) research paper. Beyond informing the academic community, this new knowledge of the timing (and value) of different markers of heat stress tolerance will be actively disseminated throughout the CIAT physiology and breeding community so that no opportunities to adopt an deploy new protocols is lost. This should accelerate the breeding process by decreasing the reliance on long-term, multi-genotype field trials in the target environments.

Since high temperature events are often accompanied by significant soil drying, understanding the regulation of crop water use in response to changing soil water status and evaporative demand (determined using Lancaster's water use phenotyping platform) will be valuable to discriminate genetic variation in these traits. More conservative water use may exacerbate the impacts of high temperature stress (due to decreased transpirational cooling). These data will provide complementary data to the "simulated climate change" experiments at Reading.

Informing farmers in lowland tropical regions of Colombia of the genetic resources available to enhance heat tolerance, and thus grain yields, is likely to change farmer attitudes to crop selection. CIAT staff will work with local producers associations to disseminate varietal recommendations, and understand the factors incentivizing (or not) the adoption of specific varieties.
Ex ante evaluation will provide estimates of societal benefit or costs to intervention. When coupled with a participatory workshop, the most pertinent factors within assessment can be derived to maximise economic benefit. Moreover, it provides a framework for justifying the on-going capacity towards plant breeding in developing states, which tend to be low on infrastructure and demonstrate fragility in the long-term. Applying a robust framework and deriving these values which support government decision making and reduce transaction costs in supporting the identification of these benefits.


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Barnes A (2021) Defining interpretative communities towards climate change: Examining growers of common bean in Latin America in International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability

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Barnes A (2022) Finding the ecological farmer: A farmer typology to understand ecological practice adoption within Europe in Current Research in Environmental Sustainability

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Botero H (2021) The determinants of common bean variety selection and diversification in Colombia. in Ecological economics : the journal of the International Society for Ecological Economics

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Kholová J (2021) In pursuit of a better world: crop improvement and the CGIAR. in Journal of experimental botany

Description Crop-climate modelling predicts that heat stress will become a significant constraint on common bean in Colombia in the future, however current crop models lack the sophistication to accurately predict responses to stressful temperatures and has no function to take account of changes in growth that accompany rising CO2 levels. We have therefore programmed controlled environment chambers to empirically test performance of both current widely grown, heat susceptible varieties and heat tolerant germplasm developed from interspecific crosses under both present day and simulated 2050s climate for one specific target environment in Colombia, taking detailed physical and biochemical measurements relating to growth and development rates, photosynthesis and components of yield. Our data indicate that just a 2 degree increase in average temperature is enough to bring significant yield losses (c. 30%) in susceptible genotypes, with these losses mainly occurring due to a combination of post-fertilization seed abortion and a novel and unexpected delay in flowering at elevated temperature in some genotypes. These findings are significant as they allow on one hand refinement of models to take account of this unexpected inhibition of onset of flowering and on the other, suggests more attention be focused on the detail of seed development in the first few days after fertilization as a means to pinpoint precise mechanisms and indeed allelic variation that can underpin more efficient selection for heat tolerance. Separate experiments subjecting the same range of genotypes to an extended temperature range thresholds where even currently heat tolerant genotypes show dramatic yield losses, permitting us for the first time to predict in advance the point at which adaptation measures may need to be supplemented by mitigation. Transpiration responses to heat stress were shown to be strongly genotype-dependent and could be important to explain differences in yield response under heat stress. Data on projected yield losses were incorporated in impact assessment models to examine the potential returns on investment for development and adoption of a new generation of heat tolerant bean varieties.
Exploitation Route Funding has been awarded for two further years (award BB/S018964/1) to understand in further detail molecular physiological mechanisms underlying heat tolerance, to refine and update crop models, develop enhanced heat tolerance breeding strategies and to work out the highest impact adoption pathways and policy recommendations flowing from the project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Security and Diplomacy

Description "Bean Breeding for Adaptation to a Changing Climate and Post-Conflict Colombia (BBACO)"
Amount £661,997 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S018964/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2021
Description Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) dissemination grant
Amount € 350 (EUR)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 02/2021
Title Ex-Ante Impact Calculator for Economic Assessment of heat resistant varieties 
Description A model produced in excel which identifies the economic rate of return to investment in bean breeding programmes within Colombia. The model provides an iterative interface in which land use constraints, adoption rates and time to adoption, as well as yield impacts can be used to assess the internal rate of return of investment in particular breeding programmes and their economic return in 2050 under climate scenarios. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This has provided a useful framework in which to phrase future economic questions around participatory breeding - it has also provided a tool for connection with the IMPACT model of IFPRI to examine the effect on land use change within Colombian regions. 
Description Invited talk to the Royal Dublin Society as part of their policy targets to increase organic area 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An invited talk at the Royal Dublin Society and their Climate-Smart Agriculture Series. The talk followed the EU secretary for Organics and the Irish Minister for Land and Biodiversity. This was a live-online event and around 600 farmers and stakeholders had signed up for the event. This raised the profile of organic farm conversion in Ireland, which has a target to increase organic land coverage. The debate covered numerous aspects and concerns of organic farming and the talk helped to understand the main barriers to adoption.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOtX7cf7ynU
Description Organised workshop with academics discussion on the prospects for uptake of more ecological farming approaches 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Organized workshop on uptake of ecological approaches within farming against the EU farm to fork ambitions, speakers from a number of European countries presented to an international audience. Chaired by SRUC and one of the papers presented by SRUC. The workshop allowed debate from across Europe in terms of the creation of value chains which recognise ecological approaches, and the overall policy implications of switching to more ecological farming
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Presentation to BES in Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Around 50 members of the british ecology society , who heard a talk on the behavioural economics and results of the research. This raised the issues around working across multiple disciplines and field experiments with farmers for behavioural economics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Summer School 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This involved engaging in aSummer School at Wageningen University for assessing economics and policies, which took place in August 19-25, 2019. This allowed our collected data to be developed further for analysis and demonstrated with the group as a way to analyse primary data. Codes and support was given around the development of the work and training for undergraduates
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Summer Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This was a summer symposium of the IATRC (International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium), which took place in June 23-25, 2019 in Seville. We presented work on Identifying the Determinants of Land Use under Beans by Colombian Farmers - this led to discussion of the approach used and allowed a wider dissemination of the ongoing work and wider issues within post-conflict Colombia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description The Scot who's teaching Colombian farmers not to grow cocaine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This interview developed from interest in the nature of the project and some of the findings. It raised issues around low income communities and the relationship between switiching to legal activities. The impact has raised our profile and led to several approaches to further media engagements.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18591226.scot-teaching-colombian-farmers-not-grow-cocaine/