Ready market, good prices entice Western Kenya farmers to soyabean cultivation

Over 1000 smallholder farmers in western part of Kenya have tripled earning after diversifying growing the traditional maize and sugarcane with soyabeans which also acts as a food supplement.

Soyas bean a leguminous plant which is praised by many scientists and researchers as a crop which has the potential to not only meet the nutritional needs of the people, but also increase household income due to unexploited market.

One of the leading campaigners for soybean cultivation and consumption, Dr Mabel Mahasi, a scientist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in a conference said. “I often tell Kenyans they have to supplement ugali with soybean blended foods because when there is no maize, they starve.” Soybean contains 40 per cent protein, a level much higher than any other food crop. It is made up of 20 per cent oil, and contains all the eight essential amino acids, making it the healthiest legume crop.

Western Kenya has seen an impressive uptake of soya bean farming with campaigns being led by Promasidor a company that directly uses the Soya grain in their manufacturing of Sossi a textured soya protein made from cooked soya flour.

Kenya and Africa lags behind in the production of Soya Bean with the continent contributing to less than one percent of the total global production annually of over 2 million metric tonnes. Kenya’s production of the crop is still very low with recent statistics indicating that the country is only producing about 7000 metric annually.

According to David Inyani, the Supply Chain manager working with Promasidor, the production figures are such a great improvement from earlier trends. “When we introduced the awareness campaign to deepen farmers’ adoption of Soya cultivation four years ago, the country’s production was at a paltry 2000 metric tonnes annually,” explained Inyani.

He added that although the firm was using Soya bean as its major raw material in the production of Sossi, they were forced to source the Soya from other neighboring countries with Malawi and Uganda contributing the huge chunks needed.

The low uptake of the grain among farmers in the country forced the company to partner with farmers and help create the awareness and adoption of the crop. “We partnered with various farmers and initially provided all the farm inputs like seeds, fertilizers, and expertise knowledge on how to grow the crop.” The farmers were encouraged to grow the crops as a supplement for the traditional maize especially during the shorter rain periods as it is a versatile crop and can adapt to this kind of weather easily.

Due to the fact that the firm was dealing with smallholder farmer, Promasidor encouraged them to organize into groups in order to enjoy economies of scale that comes with bulk production. Inyani noted, “The farmers we are dealing with cultivate small portions of land ranging from half an acre to about 3 acres and therefore their output has to be aggregated in order reduce logistical costs.”

Four years later, the firm is now registering success with the farmers and witnessing more groups adopting Soya as a cash crop. The country’s production of the crop currently contributes to over 10 percent of the raw material to Promasidor a figure that Inyani lauded as a move towards the right direction.

The firm’s price of purchasing the Soya is mainly determined by the world market prices. “We set annual prices for the farmers who have partnered with us and currently a kilo of the grain is bought by the firm at about Sh45 and therefore at the beginning of each year we communicate to the farmers the price at which we shall purchase the product.” He also noted that, they are geared towards empowering local farmers to make the bulk of their raw material which is why they are incurring extra costs like logistical fees as the farmers don’t deliver the product to the firm. Farmers supplying to the farm receive their payments after about 3 weeks.

The current variety grown in western Kenya is a hybrid species SD-19and Inyani explained that this species has adapted well to the climatic conditions in the region. Although there are efforts to encourage the growing of the crops in other parts of the country, the trials are still ongoing for the best variety. Inyani explained, “The current varieties that we are planting in the western region cannot do well in cold areas like central Kenya but we hope to soon get the best varieties fitting other parts of the country from the trials that we are conducting.”

The crop is a quick maturing one with about 100 days period a fact that Inyani noted has increased its uptake among the farmers in western part of the country who depend on sugarcane for cash crop which takes a longer time of about 18 months to mature.

The yields from the crop are also high yielding if proper husbandry methods are observed with progressive increased yields being registered by farmers who continuously grow the crop on a similar piece of land. Inyani noted that the continuous cultivation of the crop helps the land fix its biomass a fact that also enables multiplication of the yields. On average a farmer can register about 800kilos to 3600 per hectare.

According to Inyani Soya Bean is a multipurpose crop as it is a hunger food, an animal feed and an industrial crop that also enriches farmland by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil. “It is also a versatile crop that can do well in all the maize-growing areas in the region and therefore many farmers should grow it to register the benefits and help mitigate themselves against food insecurity,” said Inyani.