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Climate change is a major global set-back to development.
As the world’s population rises, we must provide enough food for everyone. Not just any food, but nutritious food - enough to make families food-secure and provide an income; enough to make agriculture as a whole more resilient, and improve livelihoods. It is a tall order.
But it is a challenge we can meet. By setting up holistic programmes, we can help farmers tackle not only climate change, but also help them withstand natural disasters, as well as economic and political upheaval. Through a recent project in Uganda, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has managed to do just that.
Due to conflict in South Sudan, more than 1.2 million refugees are now being hosted in northern Uganda. Many of these host communities are themselves returning from internal displacement caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Local communities struggle to feed not only their own families, but also those fleeing South Sudan.
In our approach, we looked for holistic solutions that don’t only help farmers get a better income and healthier food to put on the table, but that also give back to the environment, and even help it to thrive, in turn creating more resilient communities.
The NABE 15 bean variety, christened a “super bean”, was introduced to farmers in drought-prone northern Uganda because of its fast-maturing nature. It takes 60-70 days to mature instead of around 90 compared with local varieties. Farmers in the area could therefore harvest sooner and avoid drought, while also reaping an income sooner.
It cooks faster, saving scarce wood fuel, and the beans grow well in a variety of conditions including poor rocky and sandy soils, where many refugees are allotted land. It is also tolerant to common bean diseases, especially anthracnose, fetching a yield of 2,000 kg per hectare compared to an average of 800 kg per hectare with other varieties. All of these qualities make the bean very attractive for farmers struggling to make ends meet.
Years after farmers started growing and producing the bean, we have found that NABE 15 has vastly improved livelihoods and resilience in northern Uganda. One farmer in Nwoya district recently told us that previously he was only able to harvest two sacks of beans. Thanks to taking part in a trial of NABE 15 seeds, he now harvests six sacks. He proudly showed us a plot of maize he was able to invest in, thanks to his increased income.
Furthermore, production of the in-demand NABE 15 seed has become a booming business in Uganda. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is purchasing large quantities to distribute to refugees in the region, providing opportunities for communities to build a livelihood, even on the small plots they have to call home. Farmers across the country are working to meet this demand for seed, and improving their incomes as a result.
GIVING BACK TO THE ENVIRONMENT
The introduction of this “super bean” also allows us to improve the natural resource bases farmers in Uganda rely on. As a legume, these beans naturally fix nutrients to the soil. Soils in Africa, and particularly in this region of northern Uganda, are severely degraded, due to decades of farming without vital nutrients being replenished in the soils.
Improving soil health is an important step, helping farmlands trap more carbon from the atmosphere, a process known as carbon sequestration, for which Africa has great potential. By promoting the integration of beans into a farm, we have not only helped farmers adapt to climate change, but also reduce their own carbon footprint.
When poor communities in northern Uganda - themselves recovering from conflict and upheaval - find themselves supporting other vulnerable communities, we should consider this a grave call to action. We must fix our broken food system before it’s too late to respond.
To do this, more investment is needed to improve access to appropriate climate-smart technologies and practices for smallholder farmers to increase agricultural production and improve nutrition and food security. These investments must be guided by solid scientific data.
Solutions like NABE 15 are within reach. It is our task to make sure smallholder farmers can adopt them and fight back.