History of Soy in Africa - Part 2

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

Copyright 2007 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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Rwanda and Burundi. Early soybean developments in these former Belgian colonies paralleled those in the Congo. Soybeans were introduced into Rwanda by INEAC (Institut National pour l'Etude Agronomique du Congo Belge) in the 1920s. For the next 30 years extensive work was done at Rubona to acclimatize American and Chinese soybeans to Rwandan conditions. Farmers started showing new interest in soybeans 1960 and by 1969 there were 550 ha in production, rising to 1,640 ha in 1973. One reason for the rising interest was the intensive extension work done by nutrition centers around the country; they demonstrated how to grow soybeans and how to make them into soymilk, tofu, and soy flour (Camerman 1974 and, in Whigham 1975; Janssens 1979). A local soyfoods boom started in 1972, when a Belgian priest associated with a professor set up a bakery to make a soy-fortified biscuit. Soon 75,000 of these biscuits a day were being supplied free of cost to dispensaries, schools, hospitals, and missions, with a small proportion being sold at cost. In 1974 the success of the first soybean trial was such that the diocese of Lumumbashi and other missions decided to set up their own flour milling operation and to teach the local people how to cultivate soybeans for their own consumption. By 1977 Rwanda's soybean production had jumped to 6,000 hectares, stimulated in large part by the installation of a new oil mill using soybeans. A subsequent decision to nationalize most of the trade sector led, unfortunately, to a sharp drop in soybean cultivation, since farmers then had difficulty selling their crops.

South Africa, Republic of. A British dominion called the Union of South Africa until 1961, this was the first African country to cultivate soybeans in a systematic way. The first soybean trials in South Africa were done in 1903 at the experiment farm at Cedara, Natal (near the east coast) and at two places in the Transvaal (in the northeast interior) at Skinner's Court and on the Springbok Flats. At Cedara, the maximum yield was 15.3 bushels or 920 lb. per acre (1,031 kg/ha) rising to 20.9 bu/a (1,408 kg/ha) in 1905 (Sawer 1910, 1911a; Burtt-Davy 1910). Sawer, Director of the Division of Agriculture in Natal and an astute observer of the world soybean situation, and Mr. Burtt-Davy, a government botanist, pioneering figures in the early work, noted that the early interest in soybeans arose from the need for a rotation crop for maize (corn), but that this changed dramatically after 1908, when English firms began to look to the British colonies as a source of soybeans for soy oil. In 1910 the directorate of Lever Brothers Ltd. broached the subject of South Africa encouraging farmers to grow soybeans and by 1909 the company was doing everything possible to encourage farmers, especially in Natal, to start soybean cultivation. Lever Brothers soon began distributing soybean seed and published a pamphlet on soybean cultivation for farmers (Choles 1910; Sawer 1911b). Tests done on all the government's experimental farms (at Cedara and at Winkle Spruit and Weenen in Natal) showed that the climate gave soybeans with a high oil content. November planting was found best. South Africa got most of its information on growing soybeans from the United States rather than from England, since England was not a grower and the USDA had many good publications by this time. Soon the soybean began to be grown also in private gardens in Natal and the fresh green soybeans were served as a cooked vegetable (Choles 1908, 1910). The Natal Agricultural Journal of 1910 reported on the feed value of soybean cake. In 1914 the South Africa Yearbook wrote a long article on this "magic bean," noting that it could be grown throughout the country and promised to become an important source of food and feed. Yet the Union of South Africa Department of Agriculture reported in 1943 that in the early days soybeans did not do well in South Africa since varieties were poorly adapted to local conditions and a large portion of the seeds shattered at maturity. "Only in Natal in a small number of localities was its cultivation continued on a limited scale as a hay crop."

According to Kale (1936), an Englishman living in India, soybean production in South Africa expanded greatly during the 1920s. He reported a crop of a remarkable 907,194 tonnes (metric tons) in 1921-22, increasing to 2,177,266 tonnes in 1925-26, with a yield of 12.5 bushels per acre (842 kg/ha). He concluded: "Owing to cheap native labour in South Africa it will be possible for them to compete with Manchuria in soya beans. In a few years to come South Africa will be one of the greatest competitors in the world market." His prediction did not come to pass and we think his production figures were grossly exaggerated; the 1925-26 figure of 2,177,266 tonnes is more than 54 times as great as the highest modern figure of 40,000 tonnes in 1979. In 1923 (Ref??) the South African Department of Agriculture published "Cowpeas and Soybeans for Pigs," showing that in feeding trials at Cedara soybeans did very well. And in 1925 it imported over 400 soybean varieties from all over the world and carried out trials at the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture. All types shattered their seed badly, except for one Chinese variety, which was kept to form the foundation of subsequent breeding stock. In 1932 du Toit wrote a 22-page report on "Soy Beans in the Union," which stated that the soybean, which had by then been widely tested, should be more widely grown and used as a livestock feed and soil rebuilder. Local use was important since the beans could not compete then on the European market. By 1937 the Department of Agriculture was ready to issue its first lots of improved and tested seeds to farmers. Thereafter there was a steady increase in production. In 1937 Viljoen reported in a PhD thesis and subsequent booklet that there was no local market for soybeans in South Africa, but that recently a strong demand had started on the Rand, where a well-known milling company had succeeded in producing a soybean meal (soy flour) accepted by a number of gold mines on the Rand for use in mealie meal (a grain porridge) in the diet of native mine workers. This was the earliest known popular and commercial soyfood in Africa and in South Africa, and the earliest known use of soy flour in Africa.

In 1943, in the midst of World War II, the Department of Agriculture published a remarkable 58-page bulletin "Soya Beans in South Africa," which contained 41 soyfoods recipes, including those for whole dry soybeans, soy meal and flour, homemade soymilk, and homemade tofu. It noted that the easiest way of introducing soyfoods was by using soy flour in mealie meal, which was the main source of demand for soybeans in South Africa. Noting that "Today the soybean is hardly more than a name to most people in South Africa," the bulletin urged that it be more widely grown for food and to prevent destruction of natural vegetation from overgrazing and exhaustion of soil fertility from one-crop farming (corn) and lack of crop rotation. In 1956 a Seventh-day Adventist food plant opened in the Transvaal and may be?? producing textured soy protein.

In 1962 the nation's second popular, commercial soy-fortified blended food, brand-named ProNutro, was developed by a South African private company without outside financial aid. Promoted to the native population as a versatile, protein-rich food, it had the second largest volume in the world for such foods after Bal-Ahar in India (Aguilera and Lusas 1981). In 1982 several workers with Plenty, an international charitable organization connected with The Farm in Tennessee (see Chapter 51) had begun to build a grassroots soyfoods movement in Lesotho (a constitutional monarchy, formerly Basutoland, surrounded by South Africa), as part of the Motsemocha Village Technology Center. It is not known what percentage of the 26,000 tonnes of soybeans grown in South Africa is used for food and other purposes.

Tanzania. Soybeans were first introduced at Amani, Tanga, by the Germans in 1907. During World War II the British tried unsuccessfully to grow soybeans. The potential of soybeans was later realized and a breeding program, started in 1955, showed good results by the early 1960s, with acreage expanding during the 1970s, when production was steady at about 3,000 tonnes a year for the decade (Mmbaga, in Whigham 1975). At this time there arose a strong interest in expanding the use of soybeans for human foods. Soybeans were bought by the National Milling Corp. In 1973 tests were run in three villages making whole soy flour using the simple process developed at the USDA Northern Regional Research Center in the United States. By 1974 maize flour was being fortified with soy flour (3:1) in porridges and wheat flour was fortified with soy flour (9:1) in breads. Village soybean projects had been established and future prospects for soy were considered very bright. Using hand operated equipment, villagers processed soybeans into whole soy flour, soymilk, and tofu (Mosha 1976). By 1978 the National Milling Corp. was using low-cost extrusion cookers to make whole soy flour and cereal-soy blends (Wilson 1979). In 1978 production of Lisha, a corn-soy-milk product, was 572 tonnes. It was distributed through institutional channels to malnourished children in health clinics. In 1979 Tanzania hosted the Second International Workshop on Low-Cost Extrusion Cookers, where much attention was given to cereal-soy blends.

Uganda. The soybean was introduced to Uganda from both the United States and South Africa in 1938. Within a few years variety trials were done and successful varieties were distributed to Farmers. Production increased in response to a wartime demand from Britain, where proteins were scarce. Maximum area during the war was 14,100 to 16,200 ha (35,000 to 40,000 acres), with production of roughly 40,000 to 45,000 tonnes. But after 1948 demand dropped until in 1965 only a few thousand acres were grown (Harrison 1969).

During the 1950s R.F.A. Dean, a widely respected nutritionist and physician, worked in Uganda and was on the Medical Research Council of the Mulago Hospital in Kampala. He noted (in Altschul 1958) that during World War II attempts had been made to introduce soybeans for food use, but that no instruction had been given in the necessary details of preparation. As a result, whole soybeans were declared inedible by the Africans. They retained a strong prejudice against soybeans and were suspicious that they had been added to any food which was later found distasteful. Dean described attempts to make soy flour on a laboratory scale in Uganda (it had not reached the pilot plant stage by 1958) and noted that Multi-Purpose Food, containing soy flour and distributed by an American organization, was used in hospitals and for infants.

In December 1964 the Uganda Government, Buganda Region, hired Dr. D.W. Harrison to serve as Director of Nutrition and Health Education. A black American and self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist medical missionary, Dr. Harrison had previously done work with soybeans and soyfoods in Ghana (1960-63). In Uganda in 1965 Harrison founded Africa Basic Foods, which did pioneering work in developing soybeans as a food cash crop for small farmers, producing and marketing low-cost soyfoods, and educating the people about the value of these foods. The full story of his work is given in Chapter 41.12. ABF, one of the earliest soyfoods manufacturers in Africa and the first?? to make a variety of soyfoods, was still active in 1982, with 50 employees.

During the 1970s, after Idi Amin took power and the political and economic situation deteriorated drastically, soybean production fell from a postwar high of 11,000 to 13,800 tonnes in 1968 to only 3,000 tonnes through the 1970s. De (1971) reported that small-scale industrial production of TVP had been in operation in Uganda for a number of years and a formulated product was being marketed there. Orr (1977) stated that soy-fortified foods appeared in local markets but in very limited quantities and at very high prices, beyond the purchasing capacity of the needy. Both De and Orr may have been referring to the products made by ABF.

Upper Volta. In 1974 Kay developed recipes or using cooked soybeans or soy flour to fortify several traditional dishes from Upper Volta: to, a porridge made traditionally with sorghum and millet flour; sumbala, an aromatic product made with nere seeds; and faros, a small white tuber, whose nutritional value can be greatly improved if it is served with soy flour in a preparation steamed in leaves. He also described how to make soymilk and soy fritters. Though the soy-fortification experiments proceeded well, they were discontinued. It is not known why.

Zaire (formerly Belgian Congo). As mentioned earlier, soybeans may have been grown in Zaire as early as 1889. The first clear record shows soybean seeds having been sent to the botanical garden of Eala near Coquilhatville in 1908, probably in connection with the Belgium's efforts to get its colonies growing soybeans (Engelbeen 1948). In 1915 the agronomist Mestdaugh tested three varieties at Lusambo (Sankuru); black and yellow varieties yielded 1,786 and 1,472 kg/ha respectively. King Leopold II of Belgium (1865-1909) had created INEAC (Institut National pour l'Etude Agronomique du Congo Belge) to study and develop local plants. In 1936 the Belgian government assigned INEAC to help the Congo with soybean domestication and cultivation. The earliest known successful introduction of soyfoods to Africa was by Catholic missionaries of orders such as the Peres Blancs and the Peres de Scheut. According to Father Rossman of the Peres Blancs, in the early 1930s Monseigneur Mathyssen, Bishop of Bunia in Ituri (a district in the eastern part of the Congo), organized soymilk production for distribution by one or several dispensaries under his rule. The children learned to ask for it as "Monseigneur milk" (Yeu 1933; Personal communication 1981, via F. de Selliers). In 1933 L'Heureux wrote an article on soybeans and soyfoods in the Congo, in which he discussed food uses and methods for preparing soymilk.

Despite these local successes and extensive domestication work, the soybean was not widely grown in the Congo nor widely used in indigenous diets, for various reasons discussed by Engelbeen (1948).

In 1962-63, after a tribal war in Kasai (a region in central Zaire) destroyed most of the crops, Belgian scientists and missionaries began working to reintroduce soybeans and soyfoods. By the 1970s, soy flour was being widely used to replace one-fourth of the corn flour in a type of bread called bidia, and also being used with corn, sugar, and bananas in a weaning food called "milk soup." The success of these two soy-fortified foods gave an impulse to further expansion of soy cultivation in Kasai, as well as in nearby Rwanda and Burundi.

Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia prior to 1980). Although Europeans comprise only a small proportion of the population (3% in 1982), prior to 1980 they showed most of the interest in and did most of the research and publication on soybeans. The earliest known reference to soybeans in Zimbabwe appeared in 1906, when an article in the Rhodesian Agricultural Journal (in which most later articles were published) and the Annual Report of the Transvaal Department of Agriculture both reported that soybeans were grown that year at the Salisbury Experiment Station for soil improvement. When the vines were turned under, they improved the quality of the soil "almost out of recognition." It was noted that the main value of the plant was for the dried beans, which could be used with maize for fattening livestock. In 1912 Dickson (Ref??), a government agriculturalist, wrote a five-page article on "Soy Beans," noting the growing interest in the plant and the fact that he had introduced five varieties to the country. The nutritional composition of the soybean was reported.

The earliest selection and breeding of soybean varieties suitable for Zimbabwe commenced in 1925 and continued for the next 10-15 years, resulting in the release of a number of "Hernon" strains. However there was little commercial production (Weinmann 1975: Davis 1978).

Commercial scale production of soybeans in Zimbabwe began in 1940, on farms run by Europeans. Likewise starting in 1940 soybeans and maize were grown alternately at the Salisbury Experiment Station. In 1941 Arnold, Manager of the experiment station, reported on variety trials and also on the first palatability trials for boiled soybeans. Though requiring lengthy cooking, they had a "nutty" flavor. Arnold noted that "the mines and other employers of native labor may eventually purchase large quantities of them . . . During the cooking tests several Europeans ate the beans and freely expressed a liking for them." Native employees at the station soon came to like the soybeans parched, toasted, or boiled and mixed with kaffir or haricot beans. Shortly after World War II a brief attempt was made, unsuccessfully, to introduce tempeh to Zimbabwe (see Chapter 21). The earliest known report of soybean acreage and yield was in 1954-55. A total of 770 ha were grown: 326 ha were grown for seed yielding 174.2 tonnes of soybeans, for a yield of 534 kg/ha. By 1956-57 a total of 1,886 ha were grown: 404.8 ha were grown for seed yielding 230.6 tonnes of soybeans, for a yield of 569.7 kg/ha (Rattray 1960). From 1957-1969 soybeans were sold direct to the trade, with the Grain Marketing Board acting as a residual buyer.

In 1960, Rattray noted that the soybean was planted on few farms in Zimbabwe, which seemed to him surprising, considering that the crop (planted in late November or early December) was "ideally suited to Rhodesian conditions" and that there was an on going search for additional cash crops to maize. He reported attaining experimental yields up to 2,470 kg/ha, with averages of about 1,572 kg/ha. He also noted that attempts made to introduce "soyas" into native rations had failed because the bean was too hard and required too much cooking, and millers preferred not to mix soy flour with wheat flour for bread. In 1961 the Griffith Committee, established by the federal government to examine the possibilities of expanding soybean production, noted that low yields were the main cause of low profits for soybean growers. Therefore in 1963 a greatly expanded soybean breeding program was inaugurated at the Salisbury Experiment Station. Yields increased and from 1964-1968 the Grain Marketing Board guaranteed soybean prices. From 1967 on area and production began to expand rapidly. Articles by Humphreys (1964) and Harper (1967) traced and encouraged the expansion.

In about 1974 soybean production in Zimbabwe reached the 10,000 tonne "takeoff" mark and the national average yield reached 1,700 kg/ha, with variety trials reaching 5,500 kg/ha (Tattersfield, in Whigham 1975: Davis 1978). From 1975-1977 Zimbabwe was probably Africa's second largest soybean producer, after Nigeria, and from 1977 on Zimbabwe ran a close second to Egypt, having passed Nigeria. Production grew dramatically from 44,000 tonnes in 1977 to 97,000 tonnes in 1982. Little work has been done with soyfoods, but in 1982 at least one large company was doing research on developing a soymilk soft drink.


William Shurtleff, Director of The Soyfoods Center in California, is the author of eight books about soyfoods, including books on tofu, soymilk, tempeh, and miso, and their commercial production.


Mr. Shurtleff would welcome any comments, additions, or corrections you might have relating to this manuscript describing the History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Africa, since it will eventually form one chapter in a larger book titled History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s. Please send any comments to: The Soyfoods Center, P.O. Box 234, Lafayette, CA 94549 USA.


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