The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projected that from November 2021 to March 2022 nearly 23 million Afghans – more than half of the country’s population – would experience acute food insecurity and suffer from hunger. This is a record high – a 35 percent increase from the same season last year – and as usual many of the people affected are concentrated in the central and northern highlands.
Scientists at the University of Central Asia (UCA) have identified common beans – which often require sufficient irrigation to grow – that can adapt to harsh climatic conditions and provide mountainous communities a reliable source of nutrition during the lean season.
Beans along with other legume crops play an important role in the diet of Afghan peoples. A source of protein, they are rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, and are associated with reducing the risk of cancer.
In recent years, the production of common beans has increased on Afghan farms. However, the arid climate with very little summer rainfall presents a serious challenge. Research from Brazil, Chile and Iran shows that severe water deficit significantly reduces the growth of bean plants.
UCA’s research was conducted in cooperation with Bamyan University. Faculty, research assistants and students of Bamyan University developed and contributed to projects built around the topics of food security, livelihoods improvement and environmental resource conservation in Bamyan Province – in the western part of the Hindu Kush mountain range known for its cold winters and restricted irrigation.
The scientists studied the common beans over the course of two years. In 2018, they planted several varieties including pied, red, white, black and motley beans. At the end of the first year, they identified two varieties – red and pied beans – that adapted to dry conditions and were harvested in early season. Early harvest avoids the water deficit that might happen in the late growing season.
During the second year, red beans demonstrated higher grain weight and crop yield. Higher grain weight is an indicator of a plant’s ability to resist diseases, insects and environmental conditions – and usually results in a more nutritious and filling bean.
Moreover, higher crop yield could help farmers generate additional income.
The research, recently published in Agronomy, says that “red bean plants are the best option given the dry and harsh climate patterns associated with this mountainous region of central Afghanistan, particularly when irrigation water is in limited supply”.
However, both varieties – red and pied beans – are considered suitable crops for the region and a good source of nutrition for families.
Fieldwork in Afghanistan was realised within the framework of UCA’s “Pathways to Innovation” (P2I) programme, a three-year programme (2017-2020) to promote knowledge and analytical skills in mathematics, science and economic policy in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The programme was funded by the International Development Research Centre and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.