As demand for soy beans continues to soar amid suppressed production, farmers in rain-scarce areas such as Machakos, Kitui, Turkana and Makueni can reap more than Sh170,000 per acre in three months with the SB19 variety.
Kenya requires about 70,000 metric tonnes per year, but the supply hardly reaches 15,000 metric tonnes.
Most soy beans varieties require sufficient rain for optimum performance, but SB19 from Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) is able to withstand low rainfall.
Mbugua Kimani of KALRO says the variety has been improved to help farmers in regions where rain is inadequate.
“SB19 is drought tolerant. One can harvest between 850kg and 1,000kg per acre. It requires moisture during two critical times- during planting and flowering,” he said.
Water is key during planting season to facilitate germination while at flowering moisture would initiate formation of the pod fruits. The rest of the times the cop survives and minimizes the little that is available, he says. Soy bean is a short season crop maturing after three months.
Soy bean farming. Courtesy
For one acre, a farmer needs about 20 kg for planting, with each costing Sh250 when got from KALRO.
One kilo of soy beans cost between Sh150 and Sh200 , or even more depending on the buyer and area of production. If a farmer harvests a minimum of 850kgs from one acre, they can earn up to Sh170,000 after selling a kilo at Sh200.
Besides being a direct food source for humans, it is a major ingredient in animal feed processing industry.
“Soy has very high levels of proteins reaching 52 per cent of the total mass of a given seed. That makes it a perfect supplement of proteins in animal feeds,” he said.
In the cooking oil industry, the bean is preferred for extraction of the liquid to feed the growing appetite for less cholesterol foods.
Soy beans is also canned or packaged into simple foods like the now common Sossi from Promasidor Company.
The shortage is such dire that companies like BIDCO have resorted to contracting farmers to grow and supply the crop to them, therefore giving ready market.
Bidco Africa, a multinational consumer goods company for instance, is looking for 25,000 farmers to grow sunflower and soya beans to curb the shortage of the two commodities used in making oil.
The company currently has 25,000 contracted farmers who supply 5,000 metric tonnes of sunflower and soya beans against a demand of 10,000 metric tonnes annually.
“In this, the company will contract farmers, offer technical support and read market once the harvest is ready,” said John Kariuki, the company’s head of agribusiness.
The two crops can be planted for two seasons within a span of one year unlike maize which is grown for one season.
Bidco Africa says that the local partnership with farmers is about empowering smallholder farmers who form about 70 per cent of the population by providing them access to reliable markets so as to transform their lives.