Lincoln, Neb. – A dry bean breeder based in western Nebraska and a bean breeder from Tanzania, Africa met in Scottsbluff this week to get to know each other, discuss their breeding work and tour the labs and plots of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and the CEnter extension to Scottsbluff.
The new connection could open a channel for international collaboration to improve edible dry beans and help improve nutrition and food security in East and Central Africa.
Carlos Urrea is the dry bean breeding specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center. The main goal of his program is to breed better varieties of beans for Nebraska, one of the country’s leading bean-producing states. But he often works with colleagues from other bean-producing states and in international collaborations aimed at sharing knowledge and promising dry bean cultivars.
Teshale A. Mamo, based in Arusha, Tanzania, is a bean breeder by profession, and also coordinator of the Bean Research Network for East and Central Africa for the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT, the International Center of tropical agriculture. The missions of the international non-profit organization include reducing hunger, improving nutrition and improving agricultural eco-efficiency.
Mamo coordinates research activities on dry beans in 10 African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, South Sudan, Uganda and Sudan.
The two first met in Urrea’s office at the Panhandle Center. Mamo, who is in the United States for a short time, traveled to Scottsbluff to see the Urrea bean breeding operation. While in the country, he also traveled to North Dakota State University to meet with bean breeder Juan Osorno, a frequent Urrea collaborator in joint research projects and regional nurseries where bean cultivars are being tested in plots across the country.
The Urrea program is extensive, with breeding winter bean nurseries in Puerto Rico and New Zealand. In addition, he travels to his home country Colombia every year to visit CIAT (based in Colombia) and select dry bean lines to bring back and use in his breeding efforts for drought resistance and in the heat. He also collaborates with researchers in Uganda, Zambia and Mozambique.
Through his connections, Mamo learned about Urrea’s program, including heat and drought tolerance. “I’m really excited about his job, and asked to visit his breeding program, and that’s why I traveled 10 hours,” Mamo said. In addition to touring the laboratories and fields of Urrea, the pair visited Executive Director Lynn Reuter at the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission office.
Urrea showed Mamo some of the results of his program, such as root rot and common fire blight resistant bean lines, and a pinto bean cultivar that was marketed for use in Africa. They also looked at heat and drought experiments. It has shown laboratory equipment used in bean cooking tests and for the development of slow blackening pinto lines. Finally, he explained the extension component, which involves activities such as field days, multi-state collaboration, and publications and websites that share data and new information with the public.
Mamo said he was interested in talking about herding drought and heat tolerance, disease resistance and other traits that farmers prefer and consumers demand. In Africa, the most popular bean market classes are red kidney beans, yellow beans, kidney beans, sugar beans, white beans, and pintos. The Pan-Africa Breeding Bean Research Alliance / CIAT breeding program focused on these types of beans by examining the characteristics preferred by consumers, including good flavor, quick cooking time and low gas, Mamo said. .
In the countries where Mamo works, beans are a staple food that is used in various ways. They are often served in soups, snacks, stews and porridge and ground into flour to make donuts. He said per capita consumption in countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda reaches 50 to 65 kilograms per year (about 110 to 143 pounds), compared to about 7.5 pounds in the United States. In Tanzania the consumption is 20 kilograms per person per year (about 45 pounds).
After a tour, Mamo and Urrea said they were working to bring several young bean growing students from Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and other African countries to the Panhandle Center for several months for hands-on experience and learning. Rwanda is a large consumer of dry beans, Mamo said, and Tanzania is the largest bean-producing country in Africa and the seventh in the world, in terms of area and tonnage.
Both men said Scottsbluff’s breeding plots contain several cultivars with promise for Africa. Mamo said the 10 countries he works with are in dire need of a variety of assistance, including technical support and drafting of project proposals. In addition, Mamo’s visit creates the opportunity for official collaboration, such as joint grant applications.