Quality soybean could bridge the productivity gap
Showing the potential of improved, tropically-adapted varieties in Africa
Soybean, like other legume crops, can offer a good rotation opportunity for Africa’s smallholder farmers. Growing conditions are favourable in many parts of the continent. Soybean copes well with a range of abiotic and biotic stresses and requires only limited inputs. It makes an excellent rotation crop for cereals, fixing atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize what are often worn-out soils. In traditional staple crops, many smallholders are struggling with widespread pest and disease pressure. Soybeans could help break disease cycles and increase farmers’ resilience. They are also a potential source of income as consumption is soaring. Demand comes, in particular, from companies producing animal feed and vegetable oil.
So far, however, smallholders have hardly benefited. Demand is largely met by imports, with only marginal local production. In Kenya, for example, annual supply averages 2,000-5,000 tons, but demand is about 150,000 - 200,000 tons. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, average yields are below 1 t/ha; experts regard up to 2-2.5 t/ha as feasible.
One major reason for low productivity remains the lack of varieties that perform well under tropical conditions. The Syngenta Foundation has therefore engaged with the USAID-funded Soybean Innovation Lab (http://soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu/) to introduce tropically-adapted soybean to several regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
First trials show promise
In trials in Kenya, Malawi, Mali, and Indonesia, we have so far assessed over 50 varieties from public and private breeders from Africa and abroad. The trials revealed a number of potentially early-maturing and high-yielding cultivars. In addition to continued trials, we are now taking successful candidates through national registration trials, helped by the Syngenta Foundation’s Seeds2B (www.seeds2b.org) platform. Seeds2B has furthermore successfully established licensing a licensing agreement for a Ghana-bred soybean variety in Mali and will continue to establish remunerative collaborations between breeders and local seed producers, creating the markets in which farmers can buy superior varieties.