Consortium of U.S. Universities Boosts Support for Soybean Growers in Africa

The University of Illinois has received a $25m federal grant to lead a consortium of universities and non-governmental organizations to improve soybean value chains in Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, and Ethiopia.

The program, administered by USAID, will be led by University of Illinois agricultural economist Peter Goldsmith.

“We’ve already seen soy as an economic engine creating agro-industrial growth in developing countries,” says Goldsmith. “That’s the beauty of a highly productive commercial crop such as soybean. This research will work to find answers to questions about soy in these protein-deficient countries from selecting the best seeds for that area and climate to establishing markets and environmental sustainability.”

The consortium is named Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Soybean Value Chain Research. The program will adapt and deploy soybean germplasm, assist current and future breeders, define best practices for production and seed management, and identify barriers to adoption, especially for women.

There will be special focus on building soybean value chains – connecting growers to processors – because soy must be processed to capture its full value.

The USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection at the University of Illinois will help to identify high-yielding soybean varieties that are adapted to growing environments in the five countries, and varieties that are resistant to rust, efficiently fix nitrogen, and tolerate the low phosphorus level that is common in tropical soils.

A second phase of the project will focus on poultry nutrition to assist poultry farmers to scale up their poultry operations. “One option,” says Goldsmith, “is the use of small-scale extruders, working like a local grist mill where farmers can bring their soy to have it processed and blended with maize and micronutrients for chicken feed”.

The University of Illinois’ National Soybean Research Laboratory has been a global leader in the use of soy for human nutrition in developing countries. “There are already established traditions for starchy foods such as cassava, rice, and maize, as well as for native legumes such as cowpea and chickpea,” Goldsmith says. “People know how to grow and cook with the native legumes, but the productivity, versatility, and quality and levels of protein are low when compared to soy”.

The program will rely on partnerships with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Catholic Relief Services, Technoserve, and the International Fertilizer Development Council.

Brian Diers and Randy Nelson from University of Illinois will lead the plant breeding section part of the program. Dan Reynolds at Mississippi State University will develop a soybean field station for agronomic research. Kathleen Ragsdale and Lindsey Peterson at Mississippi State will work on the impact of soybean on gender equity. Jill Findeis and Kristin Bilyeu from the University of Missouri will work on economics and grain quality respectively. Craig Gundersen and Bridget Owen of the National Soybean Research Laboratory will lead a human nutrition program. Rita Mumm of the University of Illinois will be responsible for plant breeder training and Jeremy Guest from the University of Illinois will lead a research program on the environmental impact of soybean cultivation. Mike Lacy of the University of Georgia will lead the livestock nutrition program. The partnership also includes the University of Maryland and Delaware State University.


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