Scientists have achieved a breakthrough in the development of heat-resistant beans that could help sustain an important protein source for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Often called the “meat of poor,” beans are a key source of food for about 500 million people worldwide. But due to global warming, the area suitable for growing beans could decline as much as 50% by 2050. It would endanger the lives of tens of millions of people, especially in the developing countries in Latin America and Africa.

Scientists Identify 30 Beans That Can Endure Global Warming

Beans rarely grow in high night-time temperatures

But now researchers have bred 30 new varieties of temperature-resilient beans that could keep providing food for the world’s poor. The discovery was made by plant breeders at the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Bean plants are pretty sensitive to heat, says Steve Beebe, who was involved in the research.

Typically, beans cannot grow in regions where night temperatures are above 18 or 19 degrees Celsius. Night temperature is important because the bean flower pollinates during night hours. Scientists were looking for bean varieties that could cope with night temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius. The worst case scenario in the medium-term suggests that global warming could increase the world’s temperature by 4 degrees Celsius.

Africa and Latin America to be worst hit by global warming

Small farmers in developing countries still live on the edge. Global warming would force them to starve, sell their land and move to urban slums if they don’t get support. Researchers examined thousands of bean strains stored in “gene banks.” Then they took the heat- and drought-proof traits of less popular strains such as tepary bean and put the traits into others such as pinto, white, black and kidney beans.

Tepary bean is a neglected crop. It is grown in very hot and dry environments by Native Americans in the southwest United States and Mexico. Steve Beebe told the BBC News that they used traditional crossing of various species, instead of the controversial genetic engineering, to breed the new varieties. Many of the new varieties have pretty high iron content to help boost their nutritional value.

Bean growers in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are expected to be the worst hit by global warming.