How beans can address food, nutrition and income challenges during COVID 19.

By Robert Fungo

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant disruptions in food systems, especially on the poorest nations of Africa and Asia. PABRA explores how the bean crop can be exploited, to address these challenges of the affected communities during these pandemic times.

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.,) is the most important legume for consumption by billions of populations in the world. The global average bean consumption per capita is about 2.58 kg (FAOSTAT, 2019). The six highest producers of beans include; Brazil, India, Mexico, the United States of America, Tanzania, and Uganda respectively (FAOSTAT, 2019). These are some of the worst affected countries by the COVID-19 pandemic in varying degrees. IFPRI reports that extreme poverty could increase by up to 20% in poor countries such as Uganda and Tanzania. Given its high consumption and adaptability, the bean crop has a great potential to address food and nutrition insecurity among the most vulnerable populations, during this COVID-19 pandemic because.

  • The bean crop can adapt well given its highest levels of variation in growth habit, seed characteristics (size, shape, and color), and maturity. It also has tremendous variability (> 40,000 varieties).
  • Beans are nutritionally superior, serving as a good source of the majority of essential nutrients. Especially biofortified, beans are good sources of proteins, folic acid, minerals (calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc), dietary fiber, and complex carbohydrates (Suárez-Martínez et al., 2016). In addition, beans hold average mineral concentrations for copper (18 mg/kg), iron (60 mg/kg), manganese (23 mg/kg) and zinc (29 mg/kg) (Suárez-Martínez et al., 2016). Zinc fortifies the normal function of the immune system (Klaus-Helge and Lothar, 2003).
  • Beans are inexpensive sources of plant protein with the potential to be used as substitutes for animal protein sources. The protein content of most beans averages 20 to 25% by weight from a single serving. A serving of beans (125 ml, 100 g cooked) provides ~ 30% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for the protein of a 70 kg adult (Pachico, 1993; Paredes, Becerra, & Tay, 2009). The digestibility of bean proteins is about 79%; the amino acid score is 0.78 and protein digestibility between 0.57–0.68 (FAO/WHO, 1991).
  • It has been observed over time that when beans are part of the normal household diets; when prepared or served with maize or rice, the proteins in these starch staples complements the bean proteins because amino acids in foods are complementary. The poor such as the displaced populations and refugees, this is a benefit greatly in terms of health and nutrition, if beans are part of their intervention (WMO, 1992). Any advances in scientific research that benefit bean yields, particularly in developing countries, can help to feed the hungry and give hope for the future.

 Integrating beans in the relief foods distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Farmers and small scale grain traders in urban centers can be kept in business if beans are integrated into the call for emergency response food distributions. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s preferable, to use the food baskets interventions, that are tailored to the local situation and have the potential to entirely meet diet and nutrient needs. The food basket generally contains a starchy staple, a protein source such as beans, fortified vegetable oil, sugar, salt, and a supplementary ration to help people meet vitamin and mineral requirements.
  • Farmers who can access their farms need to be supplied with early maturing and high yielding beans and other local foods that can be distributed using the food baskets interventions of relief agencies, to avoid putting local farmers and urban grain traders out of business. Fortunately, beans are culturally acceptable globally. If well managed, the poor countries that are in recession due to COVID-19, stand to benefit from foreign exchange if beans are exported, while traders and farmers will earn income during these difficult times.
  • In areas where farming or market activities are possible the distribution of crop options of early maturing and high yielding biofortified beans is strongly encouraged to improve the diversity and nutritional value of diets.
  • In certain regions, the bean crop is consumed as a vegetable. During emergencies such as COVID-19 Pandemic, bean leaves or pods can be promoted for consumption as vegetables. During relief scenarios, bean leaves can act as a local source of food with crucial nutrients especially vitamins, Fe, and bioactive compounds (Nakazawa et al., 2012). They can complement diets with nutrients beyond those provided in rations distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This diversified diet with bean leaves vegetables mainly providing high dietary fiber can help prevent several health issues such as non-communicable diseases, previously reported in post-disaster health studies around the world. Their consumption is higher, where vegetables are disguised or sauces are used to mask undesirable tastes and appearances (Sweetman et al., 2011; Valmórbida and Vitolo, 2014), where vegetables are more often incorporated into composite foods as opposed to consumed alone and where meals are home-cooked to accommodate individual preferences (Valmórbida and Vitolo, 2014),

COVID-19 has reminded us that food is essential to human survival. Urban populations are adversely affected due to the curfews and lockdown effects, they lack daily income and do not access food markets. Spillover effects of the COVID-19 crisis are affecting rural areas too. There is a need for governments to encourage farmers to continue accessing their gardens, grow high yielding, early maturing and nutritionally rich beans, and other crops, so that supply of adequate quantities of beans and other crops is uninterrupted to the urban centers. The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT’s Bean Programme and the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) will stay focused during this period, prioritizing and helping governments recover, from this shock, using the bean crop.


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