U.S. and Haitian researchers team up to breed high-yielding bean varieties adapted to Haiti’s environment
Beans are one of the most widely consumed foods in Haiti, providing an inexpensive source of essential nutrients and protein to combat malnutrition. No wonder they are featured in Haiti’s national dish, diri kole ak pwa, or rice and beans.
Yet the average yield harvested by Haitian farmers is among the lowest in the world, forcing the country to import roughly one-fifth of the beans Haitians consume.
Now a program from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working to address the shortcoming by developing advanced varieties of beans that researchers hope will make help the country become more self-sufficient and lessen its chronic food insecurity.
“These new varieties are higher yielding and have resistance to diseases that we are facing in Haiti,” said Riphine Mainviel, a plant breeder for the Feed the Future Haiti Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA) project.
“Beans are so important in the Haitian diet because people don’t have enough money to afford protein from animals,” Mainviel said. “We eat a lot of beans with all kinds of food, like rice, maize and sorghum.”
Unfortunately, Haiti bean farmers suffer from many limitations. These include infestation by golden yellow mosaic and other viruses that are harming bean crops throughout the Caribbean, increasingly high temperatures, eroded soils and – perhaps most importantly – poor seed quality, said Raphael Colbert, Ph.D., a Haitian scientist who helped launch the AREA legume-breeding program.
Painstaking breeding and evaluation
Since 2017, in greenhouses and research fields in multiple farming regions in Haiti, AREA researchers painstakingly bred and evaluated beans they produced through conventional genetic selection. Starting with 213 lines of beans from international sources, including the University of Puerto Rico, they selected four that are best suited to lowland and highland environments in Haiti.
The advanced bean lines have outperformed local varieties, producing a range of 1.4 to 2.2 tons per hectare – at least two times the average of 0.7 tons per hectare now harvested by Haitian farmers.
The project has been nothing if not a team effort. In addition to working with the University of Puerto Rico, AREA formed partnerships with the USAID-sponsored Bas Boën and Duvier centers for rural center for sustainable development (CRDD) to grow, evaluate, store and increase the seeds of the advanced lines of beans. AREA also supports Quisqueya University, which has hired a legume breeder to test the advanced bean lines and create more improved varieties.
Kenel Cadet, executive Director of the Haitian Foundation for Sustainable Agricultural Development (FONHDAD), which runs the Bas Boën CRDD, said he is hopeful that the vastly superior beans, coupled with its other initiatives and collaboration with Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture and other organizations, will help provide higher incomes to Haiti’s mostly subsistence farmers.
He expects the work to begin to pay increased dividends in the upcoming bean-growing season when his organization plans to sell the AREA-developed and other improved seeds to more than 200 selected farmers in lowland and highland areas. To ensure the farmers’ success, the organization will use its tractors to prepare farmers’ plots, advise them on when to plant and fertilize, evaluate their crops, help them to market their harvests, and store beans so they can sell at optimal times later in the year.
Finally, a portion of the harvests will be used to increase the number of seeds for the next growing season and for continual research to improve disease resistance and adaptation to Haiti’s wide-ranging ecological regions.
AREA graduate newly hired as plant breeder
Helping with this effort is Mainviel, who was recently hired by FONHDAD as a plant-breeding consultant. Mainviel earned a Master of Science degree in horticultural sciences from the University of Florida through an USAID-supported AREA scholarship program to train professionals who can modernize Haiti’s agricultural sector. “She has the kind of plant-breeding expertise as a young agronomist who can help us to continue to improve,” he said.
Rose Koenig, Ph.D., principal investigator of the AREA project, said all the components are in place for the program to succeed and reach many more farmers in the years ahead.
“Developing the advanced lines of beans is a major step. Now our Haitian partners are taking the lead,” she said. “This is a model of how agricultural expertise, hard work and collaboration can help reduce food insecurity in Haiti.”