Soybean Impacts

Soybean holds enormous potential for Africa that is only beginning to be captured, creating major opportunities for high returns to increased investment in research-for-development (Abate et al. 2012; Alene et al. 2009).

Due to growing demand for vegetable oil and livestock products, Africa is projected to face a deficit in supply of 196,000 tons of soybean in 2020 and 450,000 tons in 2030 (Alene et al. 2012) – a deficit that will have to be made up through costly imports if regional production does not increase. With soybean prices currently around US$500 per ton, African soybean production could substitute for some $100 million in imports by 2020, and $225 million a decade later. Africa could add much additional value by processing soybean; in 2004 the continent spent $1 billion importing soybean products – about three-fourths for soy oil, and one fourth for grain and meal for livestock feed (IITA 2008). Processing these products on the continent would mean more than a billion dollars worth of employment, income and consequently, better nutrition injected into the African farm sector and smallholder households.

Since the mid-1980s IITA has carried out research-for-development to jump-start smallholder cultivation and consumption of this ‘new’ crop on the continent. IITA’s initial focus was on Nigeria, its host country, but has expanded continent-wide since 2008. In 2010 IITA surveyed 14 countries that account for over 75% of the total soybean production in Sub-Saharan Africa (Alene et al. 2012). Approximately 0.7 million hectares (52%) were found to be sown to IITA-related varieties, including 82% of Nigeria’s hectarage. IITA’s smallholder focus has always included the introduction of home-based processing and preparation techniques to ensure that the outstanding nutritional properties of soybean, as well as the value-addition of small-scale processing enterprises (often managed by women) benefit poor smallholder households.

West and Central Africa

IITA’s soybean breeding activities had in the past concentrated in West Africa, especially Nigeria. In Nigeria, large impact was achieved by pursuing an inclusive market-oriented development approach, preferentially focusing on pro-poor segments of the value chain. More than 80 soybean-based agro-processing businesses now function in Nigeria.

Poor households account for more than 80% of production in the country (Alene et al. 2009). The same study assessed the overall economic gains as well as the equity effects of commodity research programs in Nigeria; they estimated that each dollar invested in soybean research generated a remarkable 46 dollars worth of benefits, corresponding to an annualized rate of return on investment of 72%. They estimated that the poor captured 66% of all the benefits of that research. Akinola et al. (2009) measured the economic impacts of soybean-maize rotation research involving promiscuous soybean varieties in northern Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. They estimated an annual rate of return to the research-for-development investment of 35% to 43%.

Women are central to IITA’s strategy, leveraging skills that enable them to integrate production, processing, and marketing to generate cash income, in addition to ensuring household food and nutritional security. IITA’s adaptation and dissemination of soybean recipes in Nigeria led to increased local trading of soybean food products, improving the nutritional status of Nigerians including infants and school children. Increased demand for soybean-derived products in turn stimulated the increased production of the crop (Yangouba 2009). In Benue State, the major soybean-producing region in Nigeria, IITA’s the adoption of soybean varieties had a clear positive impact on household income generation and distribution, material welfare, human capital development, gender relations, resource use, social equity, and other social processes in the community (Sanginga et al. 1999; Yangouba 2009).

Eastern and Southern Africa

Because soybean is a relatively new crop in Africa initially stimulated by the large-scale farming sector, the total soybean area in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe is under improved varieties, though none are IITA-derived (until recently, IITA has not focused on Southern Africa). In Uganda, Africa’s third-largest soybean producer (after Nigeria and South Africa), more than half of the soybean area is sown to IITA-derived varieties.


Abate, T and Alene, A.D and Bergvinson, D and Shiferaw, B and Silim, S and Orr, A and Asfaw, S (2012) Tropical Grain Legumes in Africa and South Asia: Knowledge and Opportunities. Tropical Legumes II Research Report. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Nairobi, Kenya.

Akinola AA, Alene AD, Adeyemo R, Sanogo D. and Olanrewaju AS. 2009. Economic impacts of soil fertility management research in West Africa. AFJARE. 3(2):159-175.

Alene AD, Coulibaly, O and Abdoulaye T. 2012. The world cowpea and soybean economies: Facts, trends, and outlook. Lilongwe, Malawi: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Alene AD, Manyong VM, Tollens E and Abele S. 2009. Efficiency–equity tradeoffs and the scope for resource reallocation in agricultural research: evidence from Nigeria. Agricultural Economics 40:1-14.

IITA 2008. 30 years R4D in soybean: what’s next? R4D Review, 21 Sept. 2008.’s-next/

Sanginga PC, Adesina AA, Manyong OO and Dashiell KE. 1999. Social impact of soybean in Nigeria’s southern guinea savanna. International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan.

Tefera, H. 2011. Breeding for promiscuous soybeans at IITA. Pp. 147-162 in: Sudaric, A. (ed.), Soybean: Molecular Aspects of Breeding. Intech. ISBN 978-953-307-240-1.

Yangouba, AJ 2009. Adoption and social impact assessment of soybean production and utilization in southern Borno State, Northern Nigeria. Unpublished report from the 2004-2009 CIDA-funded Sustainable Agriculture in Borno State (PROSAB) project executed by IITA. 125 pp.

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Grain Legumes is a partnership among four CGIAR Research Institutes: ICRISAT as lead center, CIAT, ICARDA and IITA, along with several public and private institutes and organizations, governments, and farmers worldwide.

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