By Sean McNealy
DES MOINES, Iowa — The Soybean Innovation Lab, funded by U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the Feed the Future initiative, researches and implements better ways to produce soybeans to make rural communities healthier in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Soybeans, one of the worlds’ healthiest foods with high protein, vitamin and mineral content, are emphasized for their nutritious properties for humans, animals, and soils.
Resilient legumes such as soy, Robert Bertram of USAID said at the World Food Prize, result in more biomass which results in reslient soils and produces higher and more reliable crop yields. The demand for soybeans make the crop culturally sound, Robert Easter of the University of Illinois said, so that soy can be an attractive opportunity for impoverished farmers.
SIL works toward non-staple soybean intensification, which involves using capital, such as technology and labor, to raise crop productivity in a specific area. Communities with high rates of poverty and low rates of education benefit from the SIL’s techniques, said Brady Deaton, who is on the SIL advisory board.
“There is human talent that we don’t want to waste,” he said. “We want to ensure that every family gets an education.”
Soybean intensification requires that all components in the agricultural production value chain — from seed innovators and distributors to marketers —coordinate and cooperate to support farmers in the tropics. SIL strives to tackle challenges in the value chain of soybean production so that soybean development is seamless and successful.
“Access is an important step in the value chain,” Michael Robinson, chief science advisor of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, said. He pointed out that even the smallest of farms can benefit from the improved technology.
However, Robert Bertram, chief scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, said there are limits to intensification itself as challenges like climate change threaten productivity.
Resource-use efficiency, prudent use of inputs and continuing collection of information and knowledge can help in the short-term, but scientists need to recognize long-term implications of crop intensification.
“We can’t just intensify forever,” Bertram said.
Intergrating the soy value chain does, however, offer a targeted tool in the fight against poverty, under nutrition and hunger.