"Bean Breeding for Adaptation to a Changing Climate and Post-Conflict Colombia (BBACO)"

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


In Colombia, about 3.4 million people are employed in primary agricultural production in rural areas with typical wages of less than four dollars per day. Beans are a major source of protein and mineral nutrition in the diets of the rural and urban poor. The development of improved, locally adapted bean varieties and extension of the current bean growing area is indispensable for the improvement of health and nutrition of the population, which is a prerequisite for social stability and economic growth in Colombia. This is also particularly important for regions where ex-combatants are settling and the post-conflict transition from illicit to food and cash crops.
In many areas where beans are grown, or will be grown in the future, high temperatures in combination with water stress severely reduce crop yield. Stress tolerant beans are therefore urgently needed to prevent food insecurity and secure farm incomes today, and even more so in the future, when heat events will be more frequent and severe due to climate change.

Applying a holistic, multidisciplinary approach and building on CIAT's previous breeding efforts and data generated in Stage I, this project will develop novel methods for the breeding, screening and adoption of heat-tolerant beans, therefore reducing breeding, delivery and adoption time. This will enable the development of climate resilient beans, as well as models and decision tools to identify suitable areas for bean cultivation and socio-economic factors relevant for adoption by farmers and consumers. This will contribute to climate resilience, poverty reduction, and nutritional outcomes in current and new (post-conflict) growing areas).

This will be achieved by (i) providing a mechanistic understanding of high temperature tolerance in beans grown in current climates and simulated future climates (heat, high CO2), (ii) translating mechanistic understanding into state-of-the-art crop-climate models to identify target environments and stresses for breeding, (iii) linking mechanistic understanding of stress with genomic tools for breeding (GWAS, GS), and (iv) guide seed breeding and delivery efforts to enhance adoption of heat tolerant beans through fundamental understanding of the socio-economic dynamics of farming and non-farming (ex-combatant) communities.

For this project, two pump-priming (Stage I) projects on beans have been merged to bring together cutting-edge expertise and experimental facilities and approaches in breeding and genetics, as well as in crop and molecular physiology, paired with crop-climate modelling and socio-economics. This multi-disciplinary team with complementary expertise will work closely together to ensure that the outcomes of this project are relevant and directly applicable to the targeted areas and that there is engagement for ensuring impact in the affected communities.

This project thereby contributes to food security, improved nutrition for the rural and urban poor in Colombia and will help improve livelihood and perspective of poor Colombians and ex-combatants.

Planned Impact

The BBACO project builds on two ongoing pump priming projects, specifically HEAT and BACO funded under the same RCUK-CIAT Newton Fund programme on Sustainable Tropical Agricultural Systems. Both these projects consider adoption of climate-smart bean varieties as the focal end point, unpacking questions towards this goal along complimentary scientific investigations into crop physiology, bean breeding, bean growth and climate modelling and wider socio-economic investigations of barriers for uptake. Engagement for capacity building and relevance to Colombian needs has occurred over the last 6 months with collaborations between UK and CIAT scientists. BBACO aims to develop novel methods for the breeding, screening and adoption of heat-tolerant beans so as to create a more effective and efficient heat-tolerance breeding pipeline. Ultimately, In Colombia, BBACO will contribute to poverty reduction, enhanced resilience and nutritional outcomes through the delivery and adoption of heat-tolerant bean genotypes.
As a result of preliminary and ongoing work, a number of project beneficiaries have been identified while others are new. At the academic level, these include: (i) scientists from Colombia, who are engaged in strategic bean biological sciences, systems agronomy, climatic and crop-growth modelling and economic analysis, (ii) CGIAR scientists with similar interests in other regions, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa who prioritise uptake of beans for resilience in low income economies, (iii) UK scientists who are leading research programs on beans and uptake of these within smallholder farming systems, and (iv) early-career scientists who are developing their scientific skill sets in the priority research areas of the project.
These various beneficiaries will benefit directly from the BBACO project through (i) access to state-of-the-art tools and approaches, including analytical equipment and modelling approaches to quantify the impact of heat stress on beans at various scales, (ii) improved understanding of the biophysical, social and economic characteristics of Colombian smallholder farming systems and the needs of ex-combatants within value chains and the potential impact of climate resilient beans, (iii) access to analytical tools and data which allow the development of new and more nuanced recommendations for information and engagement for decision making, and (iv) promising genetic material for heat-stress adaptation.
At the societal level, direct beneficiaries include: (i) HarvestPlus and other engaged organizations and initiatives that are working directly with vulnerable communities, (ii) ex-combatant farming households that are facilitated by these initiatives, (iii) bean breeders, policy makers and stakeholders, specifically the ARN and UNDP who have instigated agricultural projects for ex-combatants that are yet to engage with HEAT and BACO.
The potential impacts on the HarvestPlus staff include: (i) access to tools and information that will assist in conveying more relevant information to smallholder farmers, (ii) improved understanding of the preferences for legumes, and (iii) support for framing messages to increase engagement within ex-combatant communities. The potential impacts on ex-combatant farming families include: (i) improved understanding of climate stress issues and management of these stressors for yields for home consumption or income generation, (ii) increased access to high quality, nutritious varieties which are adapted to abiotic stress, and (iii) better soil conservation and reduction in input costs from growing legumes within their mixed farming systems. Bean breeders will benefit from tools to reduce breeding time, and hence will be able to develop better adapted and more varieties, in less time. Policy stakeholders will benefit from support for these programmes and understanding of the cost-effectiveness of a range of potential interventions.
Description Physiology: Detailed experiments across a range of controlled environments have shown genotype specific breaking points at a range of future temperatures in tropical common bean. Seed and pod abortion are the main drivers of yield loss in all genotypes, but are mitigated by functional and developmental compensatory responses in indeterminate interspecific crosses.In addition, we have characterised a critical period for yield determination in common bean. We defined this most sensitive stage in plant life by a window when plants' plastic compensatory response is reduced as plants get bigger, but still present a large proportion of more sensitive small buds.
We conclude that common bean and interspecific germplasm sources exhibit a range of functional and plastic traits that provide heat tolerance and can be incorporated to breeding programs, enabling more targeted screening and selection.
Two bean genotypes with contrasting heat tolerance were analyzed in detail to assess the underlying tolerance mechanisms. Gene expression analyses on genotypes with contrasting responses subject to heat stress at the critical period were conducted by RNA sequencing using leaf samples and the same samples were also analysed for metabolites, analysis of which is ongoing.
These new data and physiological insights have informed the development of a new crop model which describes an allometric relationship governing partitioning between leaves and stems in common bean. Mathematical representation of this relationship is highly accurate when evaluated against field experiments in multiple environments conducted with a range of germplasm. The new model will help breeders simulate the behaviour of different varieties of common bean in diverse environments which will allow breeders to explore the implications of selection strategies for achieving heat tolerance in Colombia as the climate continues to warm.
We also investigated socio-economic factors that might influence the adoption of future heat tolerant bean varieties. Household surveys results showed that a number of household factors drive uptake of new varieties but this is dwarfed by prices received and the ability to bargain prices with buyers. This calls for more work on value chain development dedicated to grain legumes, since price is a strong predictor of crop choice.
In addition, we classify farmer perception to climate change and find experience of climatic shocks to be a positive driver for intensifying production at farm level. Hence, raising increased awareness of climatic effects on supply and production may lead to increased intensity of bean plantings. In contrast, analysis of historic climate and production data showed that both El Nino and La Nina negatively affect bean production, suggesting that bean breeders need to consider developing varieties tolerant of both excessive and deficient rainfall patterns.
We conclude that Colombian farmers would uptake more drought-resistant varieties of beans since parts of this population already relies on the cultivation of this crop when they are confronted with droughts. Moreover respecting economic factors within intervention strategies should be considered in parallel to approaches around training and knowledge exchange.
Exploitation Route The definition and characterisation of new heat tolerance strategies in common bean and interspecific germplasm sources can be readily incorporated to CIAT regional and other institutions national breeding programs. The description of a critical period for yield determination in common bean provides a target to investigate the developmental and physiological processes involved, for breeders to exploit the genotypic variability in sensitivity to high temperature and phenotype it in a targeted way, and the conception of efficient agronomic management strategies.
Better crop models can be exploited to develop food security and climate change mitigation policies in the first instance for common bean in the region of study (Colombia) but the models and methodologies developed can be applied at a global level.
The work has achieved a better understanding of the decision making of farmers in Colombia with respect to climate change perceptions and how this relates to choice of bean variety. This is critical in engaging these communities to understand how their production and management will change and is highly relevant to tropical agriculture generally which will experience significant turbulence in production due to project climatic changes.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description Knowledge of precise critical periods of heightened susceptibility to heat tolerance and related screening methodologies developed in the project are in current use in the CIAT global bean breeding programme. In a more general sense, the improved understanding of the important role of partitioning in determining the impact of heat stress and the recognition of not one, but several distinct heat tolerance strategies has contributed to the development of new and more powerful ideotype definitions for development of heat tolerant germplasm. The improved bean growth model is also used by CIAT to continually extend and update estimates of climate impacts on bean production.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

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
Description Plants, People, Planet Symposium grant
Amount £270 (GBP)
Organisation New Phytologist Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 09/2019
Description Research Travel Grant
Amount £450 (GBP)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 07/2019
Description University of Reading GCRF/Newton and OODA Consolidation account : Bean breeding for adaptation to climate change in Colombia (BBACO)
Amount £23,750 (GBP)
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2023 
End 03/2023
Title GLAM-Parti Bean 
Description A new crop model (GLAM-parti bean) has been developed in Python. This model is custom made for simulating genotypic differences in biomass partitioning between heat tolerant and heat sensitive cultivars. A new (model independent) calibration module has been developed in Python. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Currently being used in collaboration with bean breeders in order to identify target population environments 
Title ML common bean flowering time model 
Description This new flowering time model developed for common bean predicts time to anthesis from environmental conditions and genetic information using tree-based machine learning algorithms. This model can explain 97% of the variance in flowering in a test set of over 1270 observations across 3 contrasting sites in Colombia. The test data set contains over 400 individual lines taken from Mesoamerican, Andean, Tepary and interspecific varieties. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It is too soon for there to be an impact 
Description Invited talk to industry representative group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Gave a talk entitled "Maintaining yield potential under threat of climate change" to the Worshipful Company of Farmers seminar/workshop "Realising crop yield potential in the UK" held in Farmers Livery Hall, Cloth St, London on 1st October 2019. The audience were in the main large landowners with significant arable production and the event was designed to inform both current practice but also to gather evidence and shape ideas behind interactions with agricultural policy-making. The talk emphasised the hazards both for crop breeding and crop production inherent in rapid change in climate patterns, illustrated by data from recent research, and suggested possible courses of action. There was excellent audience engagement and a written report was produced for internal use of the WFC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invited talk to pulse industry representative group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk entitled "Overview of industry-academia exchanges related to legume crop improvement" at the Defra-funded Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network Annual Stakeholder Meeting at Belton Woods, Lincolnshire on 14th November 2019. This included reporting of a survey of industry research needs, an update on public-private collaborations and projects which had recently formed in response to these needs and highlighting of opportunities for innovation in pulse cropping and end uses arising from recent research. Follow-up meetings that have spawned a potential Standalone LINK project resulted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Presentation to Bean Improvement Cooperative & North Amercian Pulse Improvement Association Biennial Meeting 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk on physiological mechanisms underpinning heat responses in controlled environment conditions generated interest amongst bean breeders, concerned about the impact of climate change on future yields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021