URBANA, Ill. – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) announced today that the university 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 (USAID) and will be led by University of Illinois agricultural economist Peter Goldsmith, who has 13 years of experience conducting research in similar latitudes in South America. The project is part of Feed the Future (www.feedthefuture.gov), the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
“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,” said Durbin, who has secured over $5.2 million in support of soybean research at the university. “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. U of I is an international leader in researching and developing the next-generation crops that will help feed burgeoning populations across the world, and today’s grant solidifies and further strengthens the role the university plays in fighting hunger across the globe. I congratulate U of I on this award and look forward to the benefits it will bring to the people of Africa.”
“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,” said Goldsmith. “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.”
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.
Because soy must be processed, one aspect of the research Goldsmith said 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 added. 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 said.
Goldsmith said that poultry in these sub-Saharan regions are typically fed non-nutritious grain waste and the chickens consequently have very slow growth, which in turns provides low returns to farmers. A second phase of the project would focus research on poultry nutrition so that producers can raise healthier chickens and provide an opportunity to scale up their poultry operation. For example, Goldsmith said that one option might be the use of small-scale extruders, working like a local grist mill where small farmers can bring their soy to have it processed and blended with maize and micronutrients for chicken feed.
The University of Illinois’s National Soybean Research Laboratory has been a global leader in the use of soy for human nutrition in developing countries. “There are already established traditions for starchy foods such as cassava, rice, and maize, as well as for native legumes such as cowpea and chickpea,” Goldsmith said. “People know how to grow and cook with the native legumes, but the productivity, versatility, and quality and levels of protein are low when compared to soy.
U of I’s Brian Diers and Randy Nelson will lead the breeding portion of the research. Dan Reynolds at Mississippi State will develop and lead the regions first soybean field station to provide much needed agronomic research. Kathleen Ragsdale and Lindsey Peterson, also of Mississippi State will head up the project’s research into the impact of soybean on gender equity. Jill Findeis and Kristin Bilyeu of the University of Missouri will lead, respectively, the economic and grain quality research areas. Craig Gundersen and Bridget Owen of the National Soybean Research Laboratory will lead the human nutrition effort. Rita Mumm of the University of Illinois will lead the breeder training and education component and Jeremy Guest also of the University of Illinois will lead the research program on environmental impacts of soybean. The research relies on key partnerships with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Catholic Relief Services, Technoserve, and the International Fertilizer Development Council. Mike Lacy of the University of Georgia will lead the livestock nutrition program, and the partnership will also feature the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and Delaware State University as additional key partners.
“This research-for-development design will provide the research foundation that can readily be adopted by the development community to boost soybean production and improve the nutrition and market linkages for small holder farmers, which in turn will raise incomes, increase food security, and improve household nutrition,” said Robert Hauser, dean of the College of ACES at the University of Illinois.