IITA scientists seek to improve soybean yields to bridge SSA demand gap
IITA scientists through research, have revealed the current status of soybean in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), while exploring options that could reduce import dependency on soybean in SSA despite the challenges from climate change. A paper published in the Food and Energy Security journal revealed that this research is the first to analyze plausible futures for soybean production, consumption, and trade in SSA under climate change.
SSA spends more than its public agricultural expenditures on the net import of soybean-based agricultural products. As of 2011, SSA spent US$1 billion on imports, while its public agricultural expenditure was about US$812 million. This was as a result of the region consuming 6.3 million tons of soybean grains while only producing 1.7 million tons. Hence, there is a huge demand gap of 72% of total consumption, which can only be filled through imports and stocks.
Apart from challenges faced by the soybean processing sector that is not producing enough to meet the rising demand, soybean grain production remains low across SSA. Although the consumption of soybean is spread widely across countries in the region, production is dominated by Nigeria and South Africa. While Nigeria accounts for about 29% of total production, South Africa accounts for 40%. Nevertheless, some countries are currently trying to strengthen their domestic soybean industry to enhance food safety and increase income growth opportunities where they have a comparative advantage.
Soybean consumption in the region is currently dominated by cooking oil production. The net imports of cooking oil alone, when converted to the grain equivalent, account for 55% of total soybean grain consumption in the region. Similarly, the additional demand for soybean cake being imported and used for animal feed has risen substantially over the years, fueled by the growing poultry industry to meet the increasing demand for meat in SSA.
However, projections imply a widening of the current soybean demand gap by 2050 under two climate-change models; an optimistic one involving perfect climate-change mitigation till 2050 and a pessimistic one involving a drier future climate. The study also shows that a combination of bold innovations would be needed to close the demand gap in SSA by 2050 under a drier future climate. These innovations would need to deliver yield gains, which are much higher than those obtained through conventional breeding.
The researchers suggested that one such mix of innovations would involve doubling soybean acreage and the size of the processing industry by 2025. It would also involve ensuring that a technology package that doubles yields is adopted on 75% of soybean acreage across the region.