Guest studies impact of soybean production in Sub-Saharan Africa
Laborers weeding a field of soybeans on a demonstration farm in Tamale, Ghana. Photo: Soybean Innovation Laboratory
Demand for soybeans in Sub-Saharan Africa is growing at a rapid pace, while production lags far behind. This non-native crop is valued for its nutritional value, high yield and versatility, yet productivity is hampered by a lack of information. Farmers are not familiar with growing it, households are unfamiliar with processing and cooking methods, and communities must learn how to profit from it. CEE Assistant Professor Jeremy Guest is part of a multi-disciplinary effort to further soybean research and development in the region.
The Soybean Innovation Laboratory (SIL) at the University of Illinois is a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, local stakeholders and researchers from diverse disciplines with a common goal of increased soybean productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the Environmental Sustainability Lead for the SIL, Guest is researching the environmental impact of growing soy in countries such as Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi and Ethiopia.
“We’re trying to understand the local, regional and global environmental implications of transitioning to soy in Sub-Saharan Africa, and to use that understanding to inform policies and agricultural decision-making,” Guest said.
Part of that process is having a solid understanding of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Guest and his Ph.D. student Kia Alexander will travel to Ghana in early 2015 to visit demonstration farms where soy cultivation practices are being tested. There, they will look at soil and water quality, erosion and other related factors to measure the impact of soy production. They will also look at how equipment, chemical and energy usage is changing as a result of new farming methods, and what unintended consequences might result. Food security, a concept that is loosely defined as physical and economic access to food that meets dietary needs, is another topic that Guest feels is important to address.
“My research group is interested in understanding nutrient and water flows around populations, and developing technologies and resource management strategies that enable us to create closer links between populations and their food supply,” Guest said.
Guest’s research, in collaboration with other SIL research teams, ultimately supports the mission of SIL, which is to provide critical information needed for successful soybean development. More information about the SIL can be found at their website.
The SIL is funded by a $25 million federal grant awarded to the University of Illinois and administered by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The project is part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.