Two decades after the Bean Atlas’ first publication, a new digital version has arrived. The Team behind this edition explains how it evolved to meet current needs and knowledge gaps on bean research.
The original “one-stop shop”
The first edition of the Bean Atlas was released in 1998 by the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), a program facilitated by the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. Covering production, distribution, and consumption, the Atlas became a comprehensive reference informing the agricultural research and development community on work across African bean value chains.
The 1998 version was structured around seven main themes: environments of bean production areas, socio-economic characterization, bean cropping systems, distribution of bean seed types, bean diseases, bean pests, and abiotic constraints.
Together, this constituted a “one-stop shop source of information for many stakeholders,” explains Dr. Robin Buruchara, former Director of PABRA, recalling with nostalgia the first Bean Atlas team that included agricultural experts, national agricultural research system partners, scientists in the field and PABRA colleagues led by Charles Wortmann.
Evolving with the times
Over the following years, new challenges for researchers and farmers emerged, PABRA and partners embarked on a journey to develop an updated, digital version of the Bean Atlas. Issues addressed include:
- Climate change is increasingly influencing bean production systems, and new pests and diseases have emerged.
- New improved bean varieties were being developed at a faster rate, and a pluralistic seed system was implemented to facilitate the spread of these varieties
- PABRA’s bean corridor concept, was gaining mileage, a result of growth in the market value of beans in local regional and export markets
- A new West Africa bean network of 11 countries was launched.
- High resolution spatial data was becoming available for the whole continent.
- The shift in focus around nutritious and healthier plant-based diets brought with it new multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Compiling data for the upgrade
The new Atlas not only addresses the above-mentioned new challenges, but is an opportunity for users to access diverse bean related information and data in various multimedia platforms.
For the new version, interdisciplinary experts drew on data from major bean-producing areas in 23 Sub-Saharan Africa countries. Country-level information on bean production and harvest area were acquired from national and local surveys, FAO statistics and the results of crop allocation models. High resolution spatial data on climate, soils and elevation helped refine and update the existing African Bean environments. To assess the impacts of climate change, a MAXENT model compared current suitability with projections for 2030 and 2050.
The information was triangulated and validated with PABRA bean program experts, who provided an interpretative narrative.
New ground covered in Version 2.0
22 years after its original launch, the Atlas is back on the market. The revised edition encompasses 176 bean environments, organized around eight main themes:
· Bean Production in Africa
· Bean Seed Systems
· Bean Use and Marketing
· Bean Grain types and varieties
· Abiotic constraints to bean production
· Current and Future Climatic Suitability for beans in Africa
· Biotic constraints to bean production and post-harvest storage
· Bean Research and Development
Themes on seed systems, current and future climatic suitability, and bean research and development are entirely new topics in this edition. The update also offers in-depth elaboration on components such as pests, diseases, soil constraints and bean commercialization. For example, the bean marketing chapter compares the increase in the size of produce traded, different markets and different bean products.
Increasing access with a digital format
The Atlas is available in three formats that have been optimized for diverse audiences.
· A peer-reviewed Atlas of bean production in Africa, with interpretation from bean experts in PABRA. It can be downloaded in PDF form.
· An interactive web-mapping application for users who wish to query the spatial data – without the need for a GIS software.
· A spatial database used to construct all the maps in the Atlas and includes ancillary and secondary data.
The authors hope these different formats, which can be easily updated, will help users access timely information on trends and progressions.
Though the Atlas is a first in its field, it will not remain alone for long. “The new version has generated interest from other organizations as it is a benchmark for other cash crops. Consultation to develop a Cowpea Atlas is already in the pipeline,’’ says Dr. Buruchara. There is also a multi-crop adaptation atlas being developed jointly with World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Alliance.
Who will benefit from the Atlas
Stakeholders across the bean value chain including producers, traders, researchers, development and funding partners stand to reap benefits from the digital update.
“Researchers and students will now have access to informative data to help design and plan bean-related research projects. Public and private sector players will also be better placed to target their investments opportunities across the bean value chain. Meanwhile, the general public will have the opportunity to explore the profound diversity of bean production environments found in Africa,” says Rachel Muthoni Andriatsitohaina.
Although tech-savvy farmers may access the current promotion site; it is unlikely that the Atlas will be widely accessed by most farmers. Therefore, the portions of the Atlas that readers perceive to be most interesting have the potential to be further processed into information materials for targeted users—flyers would be most suited to farmers and traders, with additional location-specific information superimposed from other sources.
Jean Claude Rubyogo, PABRA’s current Director, added that as an ardent advocate for youth in agriculture, he believes that the Atlas multimedia will attract young farmers to bean farming, consequently creating employment.
Boaz Waswa, Soil Scientist, notes that the new versions use modern information integration and presentation, overlaying data over space with geospatial tools, enabling visualization of complex relationships of the bean components.
Although it is often difficult to predict future trends, the Bean Atlas is a promising example of a resource evolving to meet new challenges head on. Boaz Waswa states, “The new Bean Atlas stands out as a solid base of data to inform future bean research and investments. This will allow stakeholders to project the bean outlook and devise interventions to boost production in a changing world.”
Dr. Buruchara concludes proudly: “This is a hallmark product that will stand the test of time in bean research and development.”
About the researcher
Rachel Muthoni Andriatsitohaina is co-author of the Atlas of Common Bean Production in Africa. She is an associate scientist in the Crops for Nutrition and Health lever, providing evidence-based decision support to the Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA). Prior to this role, she led PABRA’s monitoring and Evaluation unit for 15 years. She was responsible for the strategic, regional and country level Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E), and led PABRA's M&E policy implementation in 31 African countries. She has also led country based evaluations of capacity building program initiatives. She was in charge of a team that won the CIAT Big Data Award in 2014 for their work on the PABRA database. At the start of the 2020 pandemic, she promoted a strategy to decentralize PABRA’s monitoring and evaluation strategy to thematic and county based teams. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Development Management from Stellenbosch University.