The value of soybean as a lucrative commercial crop and remedy for tired soils has been highlighted in a recent post by Farmbiz Africa.

One thousand farmers from Mumias District in Western Kenya were first introduced to the leguminous crop by CIAT researchers carrying out soil analysis and soya trials in 2006.

Since then, the farmers have turned it into a profitable income-earner and a source of nutrition for their nitrogen starved soils. As a result, some farmers are adopting soya as their rotation crop of choice – soya can fix nitrogen into the soil and thus increase soil fertility and crop yields.

Higher yields
In Mumias District, crop rotation is a relatively new concept. Many farmers in the area grow sugarcane, a popular cash crop, yet continuous cultivation over long periods of time has left soils overexploited. This unremitting over-mining has affected crop yields with few attaining the 14 tons of sugarcane per hectare that they used to. It’s a problem that is also affecting the small areas of land farmers reserve for food production, which undergo continuous maize cultivation with limited, if any, rotation.

Mumias farmers inspect the effect of biological nitrogen fixation

Since CIAT has been working with the farmers, crop rotation and intercropping has grown in popularity. Some are now intercropping soya in the initial stages of sugarcane growth to give the soil a nitrogen boost. And those farmers rotating soya and maize are now harvesting up to 30 per cent more maize than before.

Iddi Makokha, a member of the Mumias District Federation of Soybean Farmers (MUDIFESOF) explains:

“Initially, in an acre I used to acquire [harvest] about 13-15 bags [of maize] even after upholding all the best husbandry methods, however, the script changed for good after introduction of Soya in my farm. I first planted it with caution just on a little portion but when I planted maize the following season on the same portion, the one acre gave me five more bags. Out of excitement, there was no way I could not put all my four acres under Soya and currently I rotate Soya and Maize, a move that has not only enabled me feed my family but also get income from the sale of the surplus harvest.”

Fuller pockets
Higher yields are bringing farmers higher incomes. Preliminary investigations of soybean grain production costs and benefits have shown that farmers in western Kenya have profited from soybean cultivation, with margins estimated at 30-40%.

At a time when house-hold land sizes are declining, those farmers who have received training and committed more than one acre of land for soybean production have experienced substantial increased incomes.

Part of Tropical Legumes II (TL-II), a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centres (CIAT, ICRISAT and IITA) across India and eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa, CIAT’s research aimed to increase the productivity and production of legumes as well as raise the income of poor farmers with improved varieties.

CIATs objectives were two-fold – work with farmers to select new high yielding, nitrogen fixing soya varieties, and support the development of soya markets to increase farmer incomes and provide an incentive to continue planting soya to increase soil fertility.

After all, if we want smallholder farmers in Africa to adopt technologies that improve soil and farm productivity, then we also need to support them to exploit market opportunities and improve their incomes.

In 2011, as supply started to outstrip demand, CIAT sourced private-sector partner – Promisador, a multinational food processing company operating in 25 African countries and which manufactures Sossi in Kenya, a soybean meat product.

Farmers also include soy bean in their local recipes

The soyabean success observed in western Kenya has been attributed to strengthened partnerships among farmers and farmer organizations, national agriculture research systems, soybean processors, agrodealers (seed, fertilizers and pesticides), universities financing and information providers and the CGIAR Consortium centers.

Support for CIAT’s soyabean work in western Kenya is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, under the project Three-Tier-Approach for sustainable soybean promotion in Kenya, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) through the TL-II Project, which is part of CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes


Adapted from CIAT