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30 years R4D in soybean: what’s next?

21 September 2008 20,938 views 9 Comments

Forty years ago, only a handful of farmers in Benue State, middle belt of Nigeria were growing soybean. The crop was generally thought more suitable for large-scale commercial growing and industrial processing. But not anymore.

This golden bean is grown in the farms of resource-poor smallholders in the Guinea savannas of Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“In the 1970s, there was little interest and effort in Africa to grow and improve soybean because of extremely low yields and seed viability, poor nodulation, high shattering rate, and limited postharvest use,” reported Dr Hailu Tefera, soybean breeder and OIC of IITA-Malawi, on 30 years of IITA soybean breeding work.

Breeding gains

When IITA started improvement research in 1974, the average yield per hectare in Africa was 660 kg/ha. Total production was only 0.2 million tons. Thirty years later, using IITA-developed varieties, the average yield in West African countries increased by more than 50%, and 67% in the whole of Africa, equivalent to 1.1 t/ha over 20 years of breeding effort. That is a genetic gain of more than 2% per year in grain yield.

Twenty-one African countries now produce soybean. Nigeria has the highest 6-year (2000-05) average production of 486,000 tons on an area of 553,260 hectares, followed by South Africa with 205,270 tons from 122,870 hectares, and Uganda with 155,500 tons from 139,500 hectares.

Soybean production increased dramatically, Tefera said, as locally adapted tropical germplasm was developed and distributed to other African countries. In Nigeria, the soybean industry quickly advanced. Integrated processing, use, and marketing aspects followed efforts to develop improved cultivars. This is a testament to IITA’s research for development (R4D) in soybean that produced high-yielding and stable varieties, tolerant or resistant to biotic and abiotic constraints, and promoted processing and use.

Community impact

In 1985, to improve nutrition and to create demand, IITA began the development of small-scale and home-level food processing technologies. A study funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada with the Institute for Agricultural Research and Training (IART), Ibadan, Nigeria, after 3 years found that soybean had been successfully used to increase the protein content of traditional foods. New products—flour, milk, baby food—had been developed and introduced. Small-scale processing machines were introduced. Over 25,000 people in the rural areas were trained, with training project sites increasing from 3 to 27. The number of farmers growing soybean in target villages increased by 35%. Sales of grain and flour soybean increased in Nigerian markets.

Phase 2 of the project covered all Nigeria with several national institutions such as IART; National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi; National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services, Zaria; and the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. An assessment of four states in 1992 showed wide commercialization.

Markets had increased from 2 in 1987 to 42 in 1993. The number of retailers ballooned from 4 in 1987 to 824 in 1993. In Benue State, more women were involved in soybean production. New IITA varieties were widely adopted and grown by 9% of farmers in 1989 to 75% in 1997 on 30% of the area planted to soybean in the state.

So far, Tefera reports, some 17 IITA-bred tropical soybean varieties have been released by national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) of several West and Central African countries (Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo),  and Uganda. These show considerable increases in grain and fodder yields, improving soil fertility in the savannas and enhancing the yields of subsequent crops such as maize and sorghum. Since 2000, however, support for soybean research among the NARES has declined. On-farm variety testing and releases is at a standstill, except for MAKSOY 1N, an early maturing variety resistant to rust, a destructive foliar disease, in Uganda.

Potential for expansion

Soybean growing suitability map. IITA

Soybean growing suitability map. IITA

IITA recently expanded breeding of its West Africa-bred varieties to Southern Africa, where cultivation by small-scale farmers is rising because of less susceptibility to pests and disease, better grain storage quality compared with other legumes, large leaf biomass, and a secure commercial market. Commercial soybean farms are now found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.

In South Africa, the Agricultural Research Council develops cultivars with better adaptation and seed quality, high yield, resistance to nematodes and rust, and tolerance to low night temperatures. It is also developing genetically modified drought-tolerant soybean—the first soybean GMO in South Africa. Twenty-one members of the South African National Seed Organization produced 2,879 tons of soybean seed in 2006-07.

SeedCo in Zimbabwe breeds varieties for the local market and other countries in the region; these are resistant to red leaf blotch and frogeye disease. It produces inoculants that go with the varieties. The Zambia Seed Company produces, processes, and markets seeds of various crops including soybean and is considering testing IITA-developed varieties under Zambian conditions.

“Soybean improvement efforts in the past focused on helping subsistence farming,” said Tefera. “Currently many African countries are practicing market-oriented agriculture to increase farmers’ income and reduce poverty. Soybean improvement work at IITA should consider technologies for use by farmers of different capacities.”

According to FAO, Africa spent US$1 billion in 2004 to import soybean and soy oil. Of this, US$752 million was for soybean oil and US$254 million was for soybean grain/meal. Countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in aggregate produce 33.4% of Africa’s total production.

Producing enough in the region and adding value can save millions spent on imports for other development activities, he further added. There are also export possibilities to Europe and Japan as soybean grown in Africa is mostly non-GMO.
Favorable government policies are needed to develop the soybean industry in Africa. In Brazil and Argentina in the 1990s, economic reforms created favorable conditions for agricultural investment, production, and exports. Research alone was not the driving force for the soybean industry’s impressive growth there.

Market-oriented policy changes included elimination of export taxes, lifted restrictions on import of agricultural inputs, privatization of marketing and transportation infrastructure including state-owned grain elevators, port facilities, and railroads. Farmers also invested heavily in new technologies that improve yields, accelerate planting and harvesting, and facilitate delivery.

“Achieving these targets requires the efforts of various players in research, production, and marketing,” Tefera concluded, “and should consider technological, institutional, and organizational interventions in both the supply and demand sides.”

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  • Dr Adako MOUDIONGUI said:

    Très bon papier sur le soja.

    J’ai travaillé sur le Soja au Burundi avec la FAO dans les années 90 puis en Côte d’Ivoire dans la région Centre-Nord (Bouaké)1999-2003.
    Dommage beaucoup de Gouvernements africains ont du mal à saisir l’importance du soja et mettre en place des politiques de promotion de cette culture.

    Excuse me my english is not very good !! so I used to say to politician ”Imported chicken you eat everyday IS SOYBEAN of european’s farmer they become more and more rich and our farmers lost opportunity to get money”

    I am a Soil Microbiologist and Specialist of inoculation production on small and medium scale fermentor (Bioreactor)50 liters.

    My experiment in Burundi, Ivory coast , Benin with soybean cultivation is that inoculation with a good inoculant is necessary to get a good yield and more profitability in soybean crop for the famer.

    I think that it is very difficult to have a stable yield of soybean in the same plot years after yers without inpout. Chimical fertiliser are very expensive for the small farmer but inoculant is sheap combined with a minimum Phosphate and you can have a sustainability of te cultivation of this crop because of his ability to fix nitrogen.

    I use many IITA variety with Bradyrhizobium japonicum strain IRAT FA3 and the result is very positif compared to the control. That means IITA soybean promicuis lne need inoculant time to time to express the maximum of it potentiality. I have photo of 1448 2E very green with inoculation. I am also intersted by vegetable soybean (Edamame) Worldveg line AGS very very good.

    I thing that it is important to have a small inoculant production Unit close to farmer wich can provide a small quantity of high inoculant quality.


  • emmanuel said:

    Thanks, it is a good page and interesting. i want to know where one can get soya beans in large quantity here in nigeria. Thanks and God bless.

  • Abdullahi Saminu said:

    i have a very large hectarage of land in Damaturu Yobe state my interest is to grow soya beans will it be viable.

    thank you very much


  • H. Coetzee said:

    Please i need to make contact with someone at IITA who can supply me with info on soya inoculant and new varieties for Kwara state commercial farming project.


  • Ogunwale, G.I said:

    weldone,i want to know where i can get soybean hybrids for cultivation in ekiti-state.Thanks for giving me 10 lines of cowpea for my msc research work.

  • Luhan Swart said:

    I want to try the latest soya bean varieties from IITA in Kwara and willing to provide more land for soya bean research in the area if IITA needs a location. I would also like to access the inoculation bacteria for soya beans. Could someone in IITA contact me.

  • Wilcox, Godwill I. said:

    Please i will like to know if it is possible cultivating soybean in Rivers State? Reading through some text i diacovered that the state is not among states in the list growing it.

  • John said:

    Please i need to make contact with someone at IITA who can supply me with info on soya inoculant and new varieties for Kaduna state farming,I read about about Soyabeans growing,and a have land to grow it,please get back to me


  • Ajiboye said:

    I found this information useful and I want to plant soya beans commercially in Osun State but I need your assistance on what and what is required. I have 5 acres of land and I have access to found to finance it. Kindly send me useful information via my mail and affiliate me with professional on this field. Thanks

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