The University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has received a $25 million federal grant to lead a consortium of universities and non-governmental organizations working to increase the food supply in Africa by improving soybean yields in five countries on the continent.
The five-year grant is administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and will be led by U of I agricultural economist Peter Goldsmith, who has 13 years of experience conducting research in similar latitudes in South America.
"Over the years, it has been my privilege to support the research that has made the University of Illinois a national leader in soybean study," Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says. "This $25 million grant will allow U of I and its partners to improve crop yields and increase the food supply in a part of the world that badly needs it."
The consortium, officially named the Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for Soybean Value Chain Research, will provide replicable research to identify, adapt and deploy soybean germplasm, educate current and future breeders, define best practices for production and seed management, and identify barriers to adoption, especially for women. The group will conduct its research in the sub-Saharan African countries of Ghana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, and Ethiopia.
"The people living in the poverty band in the lower latitudes of Africa struggle with low-productivity crops, isolation from markets, and access to low-cost sources of protein and oil," Goldsmith says. "There has also been a research void in soy production among developing countries. We've already seen soy as an economic engine creating agro-industrial growth in developing countries. That's the beauty of a highly productive commercial crop such as soybean. This research will work to find answers to questions about soy in these protein-deficient countries from selecting the best seeds for that area and climate to establishing markets and environmental sustainability."
Because soy must be processed, one aspect of the research that will get a special focus is soy's value chain—finding ways to connect growers with processors and markets. Poor infrastructure and distance to markets plagues many regions of the developing world.
The USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection at the University of Illinois will be leveraged to identify new high-yielding soybean varieties that are adapted to low-latitude environments. Researchers will also work to develop cultivars that are resistant to rust and bacteria pustule, can more efficiently fix nitrogen, can better tolerate the low phosphorus commonly found in tropical soils, and can be easily processed for household as well as livestock consumption.
"There is a high demand for poultry and animal feed in developing countries," Goldsmith adds. Soybean's primary use is as a high quality protein source for livestock. "That's another aspect of this research that fits the legacy of the University of Illinois. Illinois crop and animal scientists were instrumental in developing a nutritious corn/soy diet for pigs and poultry," he notes.