History of Soy in Africa - Part 1

A Special Report on The History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Africa and Around the World

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

Copyright 2007 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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Historical Overview . According to Burkill (1935) soybean cultivation reached Africa in the late 1800s, although little is known of the countries to which it was first introduced. It is possible, perhaps likely, that soybeans were cultivated at an early date on the eastern coast of Africa, since that region had long traded with the Chinese. In 1923 a Commander Lemaire reported that in 1889 he had received some unknown beans from natives of the Belgian Congo. He planted them in several locations and called them "haricots from the falls." In 1923 he reported that these beans might have been soybeans, but he was unable to confirm this since all the plants had died.

The earliest known cultivation of soybeans in Africa was in 1896, when they were grown in Algeria by a French agronomist Trabut, at a government botanical station. Yields of soybeans as a forage crop reached 2,610 kg/ha (Trabut 1898). Algeria, then a French colony, was important to France as a place for acclimatizing plants. The introduction of soybeans to Algeria may have been initiated by the many Frenchmen then interested in acclimatization of the soybean (see Chapter 32). The next record of cultivation of soybeans in Africa dates from 1903, when they were grown in South Africa at Cedara in Natal and in the Transvaal. The maximum yield that year was 1,031 kg/ha (15.3 bu/a) (Burtt-Davy 1910; Sawer 1911a). In about 1907 soybeans were introduced to Mauritius, a tiny island and British colony east of Madagascar, by P. Boname (Boname 1910; Moutia, in Whigham 1975), and to Tanzania, at that time a German colony, by German agriculturalists (Mmbaga, in Whigham 1975).

Starting in 1908 there was a dramatic increase of interest in growing soybeans in Africa, as Europe for the first time began to import large quantities of soybeans from Manchuria in response to severe shortages and high prices of oil in Europe. European nations turned to their African colonies as potential areas for soybean cultivation. English colonies were most actively involved. Very little was done introduce soybeans to the many French colonies. By 1908 soybeans were being grown on a small scale in Nigeria and in the Belgian Congo. Africa World of 23 April 1909 commented on the remarkable growth of European soybean demand. In September 1909 a scientific experiment began in which soybean seeds were shipped from Liverpool to Bathurst, Gambia. They were grown out and in January 1910 the Bathurst Trading Company sent its first crops back to Liverpool for analysis. The seeds were found to have an oil content of 17.5% (Pynaert 1920). Soybeans were first grown in Ghana in 1909 (Snow 1961). In the summer of 1910 Sir Alfred Jones shipped soybeans to West Africa for culture trials. A.G. Turner, who was entrusted with a special mission to encourage soybean cultivation in West Africa, later reported that they could be successfully grown throughout Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the Gold Coast (Ghana), but that the yields from the first experiments had been only 400-540 kg/ha (6-8 bu/a). Later results, however, were "phenomenally successful" (Sawer 1911a), as soybeans were grown in all these areas and in Mauritius. Extensive investigations were made on all British Governmental Experiment Farms in Africa and by 1910 it was found that, given the present demand and prices, the colonies could compete very successfully with imported Manchurian soybeans. The most vigorous and extensive cultivation work was done in South Africa, and a number of detailed reports were published on this work starting in 1910. During World War I additional soybean trials were done in the Belgian Congo (today's Zaire). Despite the strong European demand for African soybeans in the early 1900s, little is known of the extent of actual trade. It is known that soybean culture failed to become established in Africa after this temporary demand subsided because the soybean varieties were poorly adapted to local conditions, the domestic market was not developed, and the European market became small and erratic.

During the 1920s soybeans were first introduced to Egypt, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and Rwanda. In 1938 they were introduced to Uganda. The earliest known report of soyfoods in Africa dates from the early 1930s, when Catholic missionaries organized soymilk production in Zaire (at that time the Belgian Congo). The earliest known commercial soyfood in Africa was a soy flour introduced in South Africa in 1937 by a well known milling company and used by a number of gold mines on the Rand to fortify the diets of mine workers.

There was little activity or interest in soybeans and soyfoods during World War II, but shortly thereafter a brief attempt was made to introduce tempeh to Rhodesia (see Chapter 21). In 1950 soybeans were first grown in Ethiopia.

During the 1960s there was a gradual increase of interest in soybeans and soyfoods throughout Africa. In 1962 Africa's second commercial soyfood, ProNutro, a soy-fortified blend, was introduced in South Africa. In 1964 African women from various countries visited Iowa State University in the US to study the use of soy flour in native diets ( Soybean Digest , Nov. 1964). During the 1960s, according to the FAO Production Yearbook , total African soybean production increased from about 50,000 tonnes (metric tons) in 1960 to 75,000 tonnes in 1969, for a growth of 50% in ten years. The great majority (80-90%) of these soybeans were grown in Nigeria. One of the first ways that soyfoods were introduced to many African nations was in the form of defatted soy flour, shipped to them by the US starting in the mid-1960s?? in the form of soy-cereal blends under the PL 480 (Food for Peace) program. These shipments continued throughout the 1970s. According to the USDA Food for Peace 1974 Annual Report, in that representative year, Africa received 49,944 tonnes of soy-cereal blends; 45% of the total was CSM (corn-soy-milk), 31% was CSB (corn-soy blend), and 24% was WSB (wheat-soy blend). Major recipient countries were the Sahel region (8,981 tonnes), Morocco (6,350), Tunisia (5,760), Botswana (5,030), Tanzania (3,447), Nigeria (3,311), and Mauritania (2,631). In addition 11,974 tonnes of whole (full-fat) soy flour were exported to Egypt in 1974.

Starting in about 1973 there was a rapid rise of interest in soybeans and soyfoods in Africa, paralleling the new interest worldwide. The two major reasons for this strong interest in Africa were the sudden rise in world soybean prices and the work of INTSOY, the International Soybean Program headquartered at the University of Illinois (see Chapter 44). INTSOY's soybean variety trials, starting in 1973, led to the rapid development of soybean varieties that yielded well under African growing conditions, as tested by cooperators in various African countries. For the first time in history, with yields and prices high, and rising domestic interest in food uses, it made economic sense for African farmers to grow soybeans. In October 1974 INTSOY organized a major conference on Soybean Production, Protection, and Utilization, attended by 97 scientists from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. This was a major step forward; the excellent proceedings, describing country-by-country developments were edited by Whigham (1975). A second INTSOY conference, held in Cairo in 1979 to discuss Irrigated Soybean Production in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions, attracted 50 participants; proceedings were edited by Judy and Jackobs (1981). These proceedings and Soybeans as a Human Food: Unprocessed and Simply Processed (Wang et al. 1977, 1979) are key documents, on which we have drawn heavily.

From the early 1960s until 1976, soybean production in Africa had increased slowly but steadily (Figs. 6.1 and 6.2), but in 1977 takeoff began, fueled by large increases in production in Egypt and Zimbabwe. By 1981 the African total had jumped to 265,000 tonnes; the four largest producers were Egypt (136,000 tonnes), Zimbabwe (97,000), Nigeria (est. 80,000??), and South Africa (26,000).

Starting in the mid-1970s Africa began to import US soybeans, soy oil, and soybean meal. Total African soybean imports from the US rose from zero in 1975 to a peak of 102,000 tonnes in 1977, declined to 23,000 tonnes in 1981, then jumped to 85,761 tonnes in 1982. Oil imports rose steadily from 11,000 tonnes in 1975 to 62,377 tonnes in 1981, dropping slightly to 59,371 tonnes in 1982. Meal imports went from 21,000 tonnes in 1975 to a peak of 61,000 tonnes in 1978, falling to 38,743 tonnes in 1982. These imports were relatively small compared with other continents and nations ( Soya Bluebook ).

Two major problems were found in trying to introduce whole soybeans on a home level: they took too much time and fuel to cook and the taste was not well accepted. Like the people of East Asia several thousand years earlier, researchers looked for new approaches.

By 1982 soybeans and soyfoods still played a very minor role in Africa. However, they have great potential in this vast continent where per capita food production has declined steadily and at an accelerating rate from 1962?? to 1982, where total consumption of protein and calories are dangerously low and decreasing, yet where newly developed soybean varieties can be grown with good results.

One soyfood that may well catch on in Africa is soymilk. With more than 80% of all black Africans having lactose intolerance (which makes it difficult for them to digest dairy milk), and with the tsetse fly greatly limiting the areas suited to cattle rearing, soymilk can fill the milk gap. Starting in the early 1980s a Belgian organization, International Investment and Development Corporation (IIDC), under the direction of Dr. F. de Selliers, began investigating the possibilities of large-scale soymilk production in several African countries. Soymilk equipment manufacturers (such as Alfa Laval and Soya Technology Systems) are actively working with a number of countries and companies to start soymilk plants. Another very promising concept is the development of soy-fortified cereal-based weaning foods produced on low-cost extrusion cookers. Tanzania has led the way in developing such products in Africa.

We will now give a brief history of soybeans and soyfoods in each African country having a significant history. The countries are arranged alphabetically.

Algeria . The earliest known cultivation of soybeans in Africa took place in Algeria in 1896 (Trabut 1898). Algeria, then a French colony, was important as a place for acclimatizing plants. In 1927 Trabut, then director of the Botanical Service of the Government of Algeria, wrote "Le Soja Legume," in which he discussed the plant and soyfoods in detail, and did original experiments on pressure cooking whole soybeans.

Egypt . As early as the 1920s it had been shown that soybeans did well as a summer crop in Egypt (Source?). Tests increased during the 1930s, then again in the early 1950s, when cottonseed production began to prove insufficient to cover major indigenous requirements for edible oil and protein meal. The first fairly large scale trials began in 1963. In 1972 the Egyptian Soybean Council was established by the government. Embracing all activities concerned with production, marketing, processing, and research, it was given responsibility for drawing up a national policy for soybean development and drafting policies that would increase production. Real progress began in 1973 with the first INTSOY variety trials and by 1974 the first commercial crop was produced: 1.29 tonnes on 1,7l3 hectares, for a yield of 775 kg/ha. Thereafter production skyrocketed, with prices of fertilizers and costs of pest-control subsidized, and farmers being able to market their crop at a high price and good profit. By 1978, after a mere four years, production had increased to 79,023 tonnes (59-fold) on 34,413 hectares; yield increased 196% to 2,296 kg/ha. By 1981-82 production had reached 136,000 tonnes, rising to 175,000 tonnes in 1982-83, making Egypt by far Africa's leading soybean producing country.

These soybeans were used primarily as a source of oil and meal for livestock feed, the latter mainly for Egypt's burgeoning new chicken industry. By 1978 the meal was supplying almost all of the country's poultry feed protein requirements. Egypt's first commercial soyfood was introduced in 1977, when Seventh-day Adventists built a food factory in Cairo and began very successful manufacture and marketing of a soymilk made by an innovative microwave cooking process using locally grown soybeans. In the late 1970s a large Soy Food Fair, sponsored by the American Soybean Association, attracted over 300 government and institutional leaders, who came to see and taste 14 Arabic soyfood dishes. In 1981 the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture helped sponsor an international conference on soybean production, where top officials spoke. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture stated that "Utilizing soybeans in home recipes should be popularized . . . Large-scale, advanced technology in manufacturing low-cost protein products for human consumption should be sought and introduced without delay." Soybeans and soyfoods would seem to have a promising future in Egypt. For details see Whigham (1975) and Judy and Jackobs (1981).

Ethiopia . Soybeans were first grown in Ethiopia in 1950 and a growers manual was even published in Amharic, but trials were discontinued because yields were low. Trials began again in the late 1960s and with the introduction of new high-yielding cultivars in the 1970s, new interest was generated. Throughout the 1970s Ethiopia produced 6,000 tonnes of soybeans a year, making it one of the top four African soybean producing countries. In 1981 about 2,000 hectares of land were under production by the State Farms Development Authority; this produced only 10% of the soybeans required by the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute (ENI).

Work on the use of defatted soy flour in traditional recipes began in about 1969 at ENI. Results were quite good and in 1975 work with whole soybeans was started by Hiwot. Whole soy flour was added to a number of traditional foods such as Injera, Wotz and Allichas, Kitta, Dabbo, and Dabokolo. By 1975 ENI was producing 1,500 tonnes a year of Faffa (a soy-fortified weaning food) and 2,600 tonnes of soy-wheat flour, both used for famine relief. By 1981 ENI was the country's sole user of soybeans. They had their own machinery for making soy flour but they needed 10 times as many soybeans as the State Farms could produce.

Ghana . Soybeans were first grown in Ghana (at that time called the Gold Coast) in 1909. The aim was to get farmers to grow the crop as an additional food item and as a possible cash crop for export to England. Between 1909 and 1956 seventeen annual soybean trials, spread over 12 locations were conducted with about 40 varieties (Sawer 1911a; Snow 1961; Mercer-Quarshie in Whigham 1975). Interest was revived briefly in 1960-63, when Dr. D.W. Harrison, a black American and self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist medical missionary, helped to start a 1,000 acre soybean farm and made a soy-fortified whole-wheat bread, as described in Chapter 41.12. According to Mercer-Quarshie (in Whigham 1975), the interest at that time was for use as meal in feeds and as oil for cooking. No other work was being done on developing soyfoods.

Mauritius . This small island (720 sq. miles) east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, a dominion in the British Commonwealth, was one of the first places in Africa to grow soybeans. In 1910 P. Boname, a pioneering agricultural researcher, reported that he had cultivated soybeans at the station at Reduit for several years. His work until 1914 and the new rise of interest since 1969 have been described by Moutia (in Whigham 1975).

Morocco . By 1974 more than 6.7 million kg of soy-cereal blends were being shipped to Morocco from the US. Wheat-soy blend was widely used and well accepted in school lunch programs. One part soy flour is mixed with 3 parts corn flour to make a porridge. Breads containing 10% soy flour and 90% wheat flour are quite popular. School feeding programs use porridge and soymilk extensively.

Nigeria . Ezedinma (1965), who reviewed the history of the crop in Nigeria, reported that soybeans were first introduced in 1908 by the British looking for new sources of supply from their colonies. Attempts to grow the crop at Moor Plantation, Ibadan, at that time failed. In 1928 the soybean was successfully introduced to Samaru, whence it spread into other parts of Northern Nigeria. To meet the high European demand for oilseeds during World War II, acreage expanded rapidly and in 1947 the first exports of 9 tonnes were recorded. Yields of the popular Malayan variety reached 1,100 kg/ha. The soybean soon became a cash crop in the Tiv division and Benue Valley of Benue Province, which thereafter was the leading center of production.

There are conflicting statistics on soybean production in Nigeria during the 1960s and 1970s. According to Ashaye (in Whigham 1975), Acting Director of the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, University of Ife at Ibadan, Nigerian nationwide production between 1957 and 1973, started at 12,857 tonnes in 1957, fell to 2,870 tonnes in 1958, grew to 23,900 tonnes in 1962, then declined to a low of 212 tonnes in 1972 as a result of the civil war. The FAO Production Yearbook , however, gives much higher estimates, growing from 51,000 tonnes in 1973 to 70,000 tonnes in 1976 (Fig. 6.1). Ashaye et al. (1975) reported that in Benue Province, the center of production, soybeans were grown in mixed cultivation with sorghum, millet, and citrus. While most of these soybeans were exported as a cash crop to Europe, with a small amount fed locally to animals, a small portion was used as food in the northern states.

The first Nigerian to study the use of soyfoods was Onochie, who in 1965 wrote "The Potential Value of Soybean as Protein Supplement in the Nigerian Diet." He suggested that soybeans be mixed with a paste of cowpeas to make olele and akara , used to fortify wheat flour in bread, and made into soymilk, which could then be used in a host of traditional recipes. Akinrele (1966) and Oke (1967) first recommended the use of soybeans as a fortifier for ogi, a fermented corn gruel widely consumed in Western Nigeria. The development of this line of work and the eventual production of soy ogi on a pilot plant scale is discussed in Chapter 25. Kay (1974) did extensive work on developing simple ways of incorporating soy into the Nigerian diet in the form of whole or mashed boiled soybeans, soynuts, soymilk, fresh soy puree, and okara (soy pulp). Ashaye et al. (1975) described soybean production in Nigeria and problems encountered in introducing soy into the diet of Africa's most populous and wealthy nation. He reported that various tribes have discovered that soybeans, pounded to a powder, for example, can be used in place of melon seeds to thicken a soup or in place of locust bean to make a food called "daddawa."


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