Close-up of a pile of dried lupini beans, showcasing their varied shapes and light cream to greenish colors, highlighting the Ethiopian agricultural tradition amidst the broader challenges posed by climate change.

Avoiding an Ethiopian perfect storm of neurolathyrism and climate change.

Ethiopian farmers are increasingly cultivating grass pea, a hardy crop ideally suited to the weather extremes that climate change will bring. The challenge is that it contains a toxin (β-ODAP) that can potentially cause neurolathyrism; irreversible paralysis from the legs down. Farmers believe that their processing methods protect them from the disease but are unaware that the main reason they are protected is that they consume grass pea as part of a balanced diet. Climate change will increase the risk that grass pea will be among the few food stuffs available during times of food scarcity and therefore consumed excessively. A much greater likelihood of neurolathyrism outbreaks is therefore a public health risk that needs to be taken seriously. Crop breeders are developing reduced toxin grass pea but the success of this approach depends on uptake by farmers. Our behavioural choice experiments find that farmers are more interested in flood, disease and pest tolerant traits than reduced toxicity. Developing and promoting varieties with these resilience traits alongside reduced toxicity could raise the likelihood of adoption and help prevent outbreaks of paralysis, while also helping local farmers adapt to climate change.


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