Dr. D.W. Harrison and Africa Basic Foods: Work with Soy

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

ęCopyright 2004 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

Dr. Harrison, a black American physician and self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist medical missionary, has done pioneering work in introducing soybeans and soyfoods into Africa starting in the 1960s. Africa Basic Foods, which he founded in Uganda in 1962, was the earliest known company in black Africa to make and market a line of commercial soyfoods. His work with soybeans and soyfoods in Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya has affected the lives and nutritional well-being of many people from government officials to school children and villagers.

Early Years. D. Warren Harrison was born into a black Seventh-day Adventist family in Nebraska in 1921. The family moved to California when he was five years old. After receiving his B.S. from Pacific Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist college in northern California, he attended Adventist-run Loma Linda University Medical School, where he earned his M.D. in 1945. After internship at Harlem Hospital, New York City, he began his medical career in North Carolina. From there he was called to military service in 1951. He earned a degree in public health in Texas in 1951, then went to Korea for a year as a public health officer, working with the United Nations Civil Assistance Command. There he first began to develop an interest in nutrition, to supplement the strong education he had received in nutrition at Loma Linda Medical School. Back in the US he was a resident in general surgery at a hospital connected with Duke University.

In 1958 he visited Africa, where he was especially attracted by Ghana and its dynamic Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, a leader of the new movements for African independence and black nationalism. While growing up, like most Adventists, he had used soyfoods as a part of his meatless diet, but he first became familiar with soyfoods and the potential of soyfoods for his work in Africa in about 1959, when he visited the Meals for Millions Foundation in southern California and read more about their soy-fortified Multi-Purpose Food. He applied for a job as a physician in Ghana, hoping to help solve the country's health, food, and nutrition problems. His application was accepted.

Work in Ghana. Dr. Harrison arrived in Ghana in January 1960 on a two-year contract with the Ghanaian government, during which time his main work was as a general surgeon in Accra. However he and three black American friends, who had been attracted to Ghana for many of the same reasons, began to consider larger ways of solving the country's food and nutrition problems and stimulating economic growth. They joined to form a corporation and got a franchise from Allis Chalmers to sell farm machinery to all of Ghana. They then convinced the government to help them start and let them run a 1,000-acre farm growing soybeans and a little produce, and to buy $100,000 of farm equipment from their corporation. Aside from brief experimental plantings from 1908 to 1912, instigated by the British, these were the first soybeans to be grown in Ghana. Their soybean production started in 1961 and did well. They had plans to purchase an extrusion cooker to process the soybeans into food, but since these took time to materialize, the first soybean crops were exported as a cash crop. After Harrison's two-year contract had expired, he switched his efforts from surgery to nutrition work. Using his own funds, he started a small bakery and flour mill. The group got a grant to import soy flour from the Meals for Millions Foundation, and Harrison used this from 1962 to make a soy-fortified whole-wheat bread, which sold well. He also started a small school. In August of 1962, just as the project was getting into full swing, the first attempted assassination of Nkrumah led to a very unstable political and economic situation. Also, the farm was not doing well. So in early 1963 Harrison returned to the US to gather more resources. After a year he was ready to return to Africa. This time, however, he decided to go to Uganda.

Work in Uganda. Harrison chose Uganda over all other countries for two reasons. First, it was the only country in black Africa (besides Nigeria) that was growing substantial amounts of soybeans. And second, he had a personal Ugandan friend, who had just been made national Minister of Health and was looking to develop a national nutrition program. In December 1964 the Uganda Government, Buganda Region, hired Dr. Harrison, then age 43, to serve as Director of Nutrition and Health Education. In 1965, as an officer of the Ugandan government, Dr. Harrison established Africa Basic Foods (ABF), Inc., became its first president, and registered it in Uganda as a nonprofit corporation. Although commercial soyfoods had been introduced in South Africa in the late 1930s (a soy flour used to fortify the food of miners) and in 1962 (ProNutro, a soy-cereal blend), ABF was the earliest known soyfoods company in a black African country. Dr. Harrison was ABF's president. The company's three basic objectives were to develop soybeans as a food cash crop for small farmers, to produce and market low-cost, high-protein foods for combatting protein-calorie malnutrition (especially in children), and to educate the people about the value of these foods for good health. After a year's persuasion efforts, Harrison convinced the Uganda Ministry of Agriculture and the Makarere University Department of Agriculture to start research on growing soybeans.

Soybean production progressed nicely. First, in 1965, the Ministry of Agriculture initiated variety trials, followed in 1966 by the University Department of Agriculture; they used over 75 varieties. Eventually more than 100 varieties were tested. Crop production expanded very rapidly as farmers learned of the local demand and the price of US$2.10 a bushel, eventually rising to equal the US price. In 1968 production reached 11,000 to 13,600 tonnes (metric tons). Yields jumped from 8.3 bushels per acre (559 kg/ha)in 1965 to 25 bu/a (1,685 kg/ha) in 1970, the latter figure being equal to US yields at the time. Between 1965 and 1970 production increased tenfold. Over 50% of these soybeans were exported (mostly to Kenya for oil, with the meal being sent to Britain for livestock feed), but a large share was used in Uganda by the cottonseed milling industry (which was always short on oilseeds), and after 1967 about 320 tonnes a year were used by an animal feed plant in Uganda and 108 tonnes by Harrison's Africa Basic Foods.

As soybean production was expanding, Harrison began thinking about a food processing plant. In 1966 the president of Loma Linda Foods went to Uganda and Harrison paid him to help with a market study. During this time Harrison started to use the new soybeans to make roasted soy flour. He would roast the soybeans in Kampala in a coffee roaster, drive ten miles to the Ministry of Agriculture research station and grind the roasted beans to flour in their mill, take the flour back to his house where he and his wife (he had married an Ugandan lady named Edith Cathrine) and some hired workers would package it into bags, then he would deliver these in his truck to government clinics. True devotion. He did this for months, finally deciding that he had to buy some land, build a plant, and roast, grind, and package all in one place. In 1968, using his own savings, he bought some land outside of Kampala, built a food plant, and installed the necessary equipment for making and packaging roasted soy flour. His earliest outside financial help came from the Public Welfare Foundation of Washington, D.C., which gave him a $5,000 grant. After he had been in operation for about a year, UNICEF saw that he was going to succeed and gave him a long-term loan of $15,000 in the form of machinery: a mixer, filler, and sealer. He wrote to Meals for Millions and in mid-1966 they sent him 1,000 pounds of their products (full-fat soy flour and a soy-based baby food formula) for him to test market. He then wrote Dr. Harry Miller, whose work with soymilk he had learned about at Loma Linda University, and ordered a soymilk system, which Dr. Miller sent from East Asia. UNICEF gave ongoing support and USAID also helped. By 1968 the operation was running well. Dr. Harrison and two of his governmental department employees ran the food company, their income coming from their government salaries. (The Uganda government was unable to commit any funds directly to the project.) Eventually they hired four employees, whose wages came from company income. Over the years Dr. Harrison drew no salary from the company; all profits were plowed back into new equipment and expansion. He considered ABF a self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist institution and while he never got financial support from the Church, he worked closely with it and tried to employ as many local Adventists as he could. In turn, the Church usually mentioned his work when they spoke of the Church's activities in Uganda.

ABF's first product, which has remained its most successful one in terms of volume and contribution to alleviating protein-calorie malnutrition, was whole (full-fat) soy flour. Both a roasted and an extruded variety were produced. It was packaged in 3-ounce and 1-pound (114 gm and 454 gm) packages. Stores stocked only the 1-pound size. Clinics used both, and the 3-ounce size was given away free of charge as a sample and to those too poor to buy it(especially children with malnutrition). ABF's second product, introduced with the soy flour was Baby Formula consisting of corn flour fortified with soy flour and a little nonfat dry milk. This resembled CSM (corn-soy-milk; see Chapter 45) and was precooked. Both of these first two products were available by 1967. A third early product was School Porridge (also called Soy Maize), made of whole-grain corn flour fortified with 25% soy flour, plus 2% nonfat dry milk and a little raw sugar (jaggery) and salt. This was sold to schools to replace their former porridge made of unfortified refined, degermed corn meal and white sugar.

These foods were demonstrated and marketed throughout Uganda, especially at various types of medical clinics, hospitals, all types of schools and colleges, village and urban food stores, police units, clubs, church groups, community development units, and the like. They were well received. Health education was ABF's main form of advertising and introducing the new foods. Lectures were given with teaching aids, followed by food demonstrations and tasting of samples. Films were shown and samples were given out freely. Posters and handbills were prepared and radio programs were produced. Integrating soyfoods into local recipes and eating habits helped to gain acceptance from all ethnic groups. For example, people were taught ways of incorporating the nutty-flavored roasted soy flour into a soup or gravy widely used with their main staple dishes. In a popular fried cake called Kabagala, they were shown how to replace white flour with a mixture of whole-wheat flour and soy flour, which was more nutritious and greatly liked. Soy flour was introduced into bakeries, which used it to fortify a variety of baked goods. Demonstrators showed the people how to use soyfoods on a home or institutional scale and why they would lead to better nutrition.

In early 1967, after his two-year contract as a public health officer expired, Dr. Harrison stopped work with the government and started a private medical practice in Kampala. He then began a rigorous schedule of working 4 to 6 hours a day in his doctor's office and another 6 to 8 hours in the food plant. The medical income supported the food work. By September 1967, the food plant had assets of $17,800 (Harrison 1969). In 1968 Worthington Foods (see Chapter 58.10) joined ABF by buying $10,000 worth of stock and agreeing to lend ABF the services of Sam Yoshimura for 9 months. Sam was a Worthington food technologist, formerly with Madison Foods. Worthington paid Yoshimura's salary and travel expenses. ABF's charter was changed from nonprofit to commercial (profit making) and tax paying. In Uganda, Yoshimura helped Dr. Harrison develop a creative line of new foods, some similar to products made at Madison Foods, and some made using the soymilk equipment sent by Dr. Harry Miller. They developed a soymilk, using Harry Miller's method; it was sterilized and bottled in soda pop bottles. Tofu sausages were next. Tofu was mixed with a little nonfat dry milk, curry, sage, and salt, then packed into 1-inch diameter casings, pasteurized at 88░C (190░F) for 20 minutes, cooled, and refrigerated. This technique greatly extended the tofu's shelf life in the warm climate and imparted a nice texture and flavor. Soynuts came next, followed by soynut butter, made by mixing roasted soy flour, oil, and a little sugar and salt. A dry soy-fortified bread mix contained whole-wheat flour fortified with 20% soy flour plus sugar, nonfat dry milk, salt, and yeast. All of these products were put on the market but some did not stay there for long. Yoshimura had to return to Worthington before he was able to train a technician to make soymilk and tofu, so when he left, production of these was unfortunately discontinued. The soynuts and soynut butter continued to do well, especially in schools; the butter cost less than dairy butter. A bun was introduced, made of corn flour and wheat flour enriched with soy flour; equal to an egg in food value, it sold for half the price. During 1968 and 1969 the business was in full swing, making a popular variety of foods and a reasonable profit. In 1969 Joe Wenger, who was on ABF's board of directors, donated to the company a small X-25 extrusion cooker worth $30,000. It combined the steps of cooking and grinding the soy flour.

In November 1969 the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) sponsored a five-day Expert Group Meeting on Soya Bean Production and Use at the USDA Northern Regional Research Center in Peoria, Illinois. Harrison was invited to give a paper describing his work with Africa Basic Foods. This 43-page document gives details on many aspects of the company and its work at that time.

Over the years a nice balance was maintained between fulfilling the company's three primary objectives, aimed at helping local people, and running the company as a commercially viable operation. Farmers were paid well for their soybeans. Marketing continued to be directed toward the poorer segments of the population and toward children. A large amount of food continued to be given away (an estimated 50% of the total in 1969), largely to children and needy institutions, but UNICEF agreed that this could be counted as repayment toward their outstanding $15,000 loan. Dr. Harrison continued to put most of the money saved from his medical practice into the food plant and to draw no salary from the latter. Like Dr. Harry Miller, Dr. Harrison was deeply committed to spreading the use of soyfoods and improving people's health and nutrition. Harrison was known among his co-workers as a good manager and a very likeable person, who did excellent and creative promotion for soyfoods wherever he went, whether with the Uganda government or UNICEF, local schools or villages.

In January 1971 Idi Amin led an army coup d'etat, that overthrew former head of state Milton Obote. By mid-1972 the Ugandan economic and political situation began a ruinous decline, with lawlessness and violence continuing throughout the 1970s. An estimated 300,000 people were killed or disappeared during this time. In 1979 Amin was finally driven from the country, with the help of a Tanzanian invasion. During the 1970s soybean production fell to an estimated average of 3,000 tonnes a year. ABF kept working, but on a reduced scale, closing only for a month in 1979 during the convulsions at the time of Amin's expulsion. After 1971 Dr. Harrison spent much of his time in neighboring Kenya and in the US, where he established a medical practice near Washington, D.C. and in 1982 completed a Masters in Public Health Degree from Loma Linda University Medical School. By 1983 ABF was coming back to life, employing 50 people and using 1.8 to 2.7 tonnes of soybeans a day. The three main products in 1983 in order of importance were whole soy flour (often 1-2 tonnes a day were made), Baby Formula (a porridge bought by clinics, containing 30-35% whole soy flour and the rest ground whole corn plus a little sugar), and School Porridge (68% corn meal, 17% whole soy flour, and 15% sugar; served in schools).

Work in Kenya. In 1974, during the turbulent years in Uganda, Dr. Harrison and his wife moved to Kenya, the former British colony just east of Uganda. There they settled in Kisii, in southwestern Kenya, just across huge Lake Victoria from Kampala. The Kenya Department of Agriculture had found the area around Kisii to be the best in the country for growing soybeans; one of the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist church was also located there. Starting in 1974 Harrison began work with the Kenyan government to promote the cultivation of soybeans in Kenya; many of the farmers he worked with were members of the Adventist church. Also that year he established a corporation in Kisii called New Soya Enterprises, which would be the main buyer for Kenya's soybeans. In 1983 the four new men, all PhDs and members of the Adventist church, joined Harrison as owners of the company. Work was progressing on the food plant and production was expected to begin in 1984. Meanwhile Harrison was working with clinics teaching preventive medicine and good nutrition. He began to grow soybeans on the grounds of clinics, then to teach local people how to grow their own soybeans and to use them in their home meals. He had developed a solid three-pronged community eduction program: (1) Family survival, based on sanitation and hygiene, (2) Growing the family food, and (3) A family cash crop, soybeans. As soon as there are enough locally grown soybeans, New Soya Enterprises purchase these from the local people and will begin operation, making many of the same foods produced by ABF in Uganda.

In a continent where per capita food production has been falling for more than a decade, protein-calorie malnutrition is increasing, and soybeans and soyfoods are still largely unknown (see Chapter 19), Dr. Harrison's work holds great promise. His threefold approach of encouraging soybean production, starting viable businesses to employ people making soyfoods, and doing grass-roots health education is a practical way of helping local people on many levels.

Africa Basic Foods, P.O. Box 3740, Kampala, Uganda