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Innovations to Advance Soybean in Africa
Soybean technologies have the potential to raise incomes and reduce malnutrition in many places in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). USAID’s Feed the Future (FTF) initiative has funded the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) since 2013 to establish the foundations for soybean development in SSA. In this dialogue, experts from SIL and counterparts from Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia presented together on the following technologies:
- Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials (PAT). There have been very few active breeding programs for soybean in Africa and the few existing soybean varieties are low yielding. SIL’s Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials (PAT) program was designed to address these deficiencies. PAT fast-tracks the introduction and testing of commercial soybean varieties sourced from across Africa, the U.S., Australia, and Latin America to provide the private sector, farmers, and processors with access to a broader selection of seed. Starting in one country and four locations in 2016, PATs has now conducted trials in 24 countries across 147 locations. A network of 62 public- and private-sector partners have conducted variety trials with technical support from SIL. PATs have been successful in bringing seven new soybean varieties to farmers in Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, and Uganda, with ten more in the registration pipeline in various countries.
- Soybean Management with Appropriate Research and Technology (SMART) Farm Program. The SMART Farms are knowledge and technology hubs, providing farmers, practitioners, agricultural development organizations and governments with evidence-based technical guidance on best agronomic practices for soybean production. Research-based recommendations on various input bundles have resulted in substantially increased yields and profitability in SMART Farm trials. SMART Farm is active at 33 locations. Research results suggest the most effective bundles of inputs can increase yields by as much as three times and improve net margins to farmers by five times. SIL is working now to extend results of SMART Farm trials to a wider array of NGO-linked farmer groups as well as private contracted farmers.
- Multi-Crop Thresher (MCT). Traditional hand threshing is laborious and leads to poor quality product discouraging farmers from investment in soybean production. SIL has developed a multi-crop thresher that can be produced locally at relatively low cost to reduce labor inputs and encourage increased soy production. Over a period of four years, SIL worked closely with local companies and farmers to design, fabricate, field test, modify, improve and manufacture a pilot thresher. SIL has now trained over 200 fabricators across ten countries to build, service and maintain threshers that can handle a variety of crops. SIL trainees have gone to market with over 280 threshers across Africa, and 70 entrepreneurs are now commercially operating the SIL MCT. The cost of the thresher to farmers remains a challenge that is being addressed through various approaches including in-house service provision in which the manufacturing company acts as service provider earning money from providing threshing services as well as other service provider models.
Expert Panelists: The session was moderated by Peter Goldsmith (Univ. of Illinois, USA). Panelists were Michelle da Fonseca Santos (Univ. of Illinois, USA); Godfree Chigeza (IITA, Nigeria); Kerry Clark (Univ. of Missouri, USA); Jeffrey Appiagyei Boakye (SAYeTech, Ghana); Eric Sedivy (Univ. of Illinois, USA); Jeremy Venable (FTF Agricultural Diversification, Malawi); Paul Hixson (Univ. of Illinois, USA); and Stein Mkandawire, Zambia National Research and Education Network, Zambia). Invited experts were Alex Winter-Nelson (Univ. of Illinois, USA); Brady Deaton, (Univ. of Missouri, USA); Dan Gustafson (FAO, Italy); Earl Kellogg (Univ. of Illinois, USA); Ken Schneeberger (Univ. of Missouri, USA); Sandra Milach (Corteva Agriscience, USA).