• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Nigeria’s nutrition problem has an overlooked soybean solution

Explainer: What to know about soybean

Yesterday, October 16 was World Food Day, but in Nigeria, healthy meals are increasingly becoming a luxury, especially protein. For both adults, and especially children, eating healthy is getting harder, and rising food prices are not helping.

“Statistics show today that Nigeria has one of the most stunted populations in the world. In fact, we are ranked number two,” said Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River state at the recent ‘Nigeria: Now Conference’ recently hosted in Lagos by the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC). This, he said, is occasioned by childhood protein deficiency, which is crucial for brain formation. The intelligence quotient of a child is dependent on childhood protein intake, and where protein intake is low, the brain’s performance will follow suit.

According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey report, 37 percent of Nigerian children aged between 6 and 59 months are stunted (short for their age); 7 percent are wasted (thin for their height); 22 percent are underweight (thin for their age); and 2 percent are overweight (heavy for their height).

Feeding children (and even adults) with more of everything but proteins, has a role to play in the nutritional and health outcomes that presently do not favour Nigeria. Yet, getting the required protein intake does not have to cost so much.

A relatively cheap source, already known but not adequately consumed, is Soybean. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in its ‘Guide to Soybean Production in Northern Nigeria’, says Soybean has an average protein content of 40 percent and is more protein rich than any of the common vegetable or animal food sources found in Nigeria.

Soybean can be successfully grown in many States in Nigeria using low agricultural input and cultivation has expanded as a result of its nutritive and economic importance and diverse domestic uses. It is also a prime source of vegetable oil in the international market. The seeds contain about 20 percent oil on a dry matter basis and this is 85 percent unsaturated and cholesterol-free, according to IITA.

While animal protein is popular, Governor Ayade said Soybean contributes about 40 percent of the protein requirement in feed formulation so even in producing animal protein, there is still a need for soybean. “For direct consumption by man, soybean is critical, to raise animals for protein, you still need soybean, yet soybean production in Nigeria is very low,” he said.

According to the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria’s soybean production in MY 2022/23 (October-September) is forecast to reach 1.35 million metric tonnes (MMT) while consumption within the same period is to reach 1.305 million metric tons, leaving a deficit of 45,000 metric tonnes.

Theoretically, Nigeria has a low deficit (between production and demand). However, the cost of soybeans is very high, practically defeating its availability. The poultry industry (and animal feed industry generally) is worse hit, as farmers can’t afford enough of it for their animals, which would have also provided yet another source of protein for human consumption. In the coming years, demand for soybean will increase, but not at the same pace as production, and prices will likely still remain high.

“We project a soybean requirement of 1.6 million metric tonnes between 2023 and 2026,” said Onalo Akpa, director general, Poultry Association of Nigeria. “Even with more people coming into production due to sensitisation and the economic opportunity of soybean due to pricing, we will still be at a deficit.”

Nigeria, he said, is the most populous country in Africa and if it wants citizens to have more access to protein through poultry or other sources, then Soybean production and/or availability must be prioritised.

The USDA corroborates the Poultry Association of Nigeria’s (PAN) concerns about the ongoing soybean and soybean meal shortage. “Currently, the sector is under severe economic pressure due to soaring prices for poultry feed ingredients – especially soybean,” it said. Yet, any growth in soybean production – for now at least – is also because prices are increasing, not necessarily to make the grain more available.

Read also: US, Nigerian Soybean stakeholders meet to strengthen value-chain

In Nigeria, the USDA’s report of June 2022, says farmers are expressing a growing interest and enthusiasm to cultivate soybean in selected states due to upward price movement over the past five years. This is seeing land cultivated for soybean increasing, and therefore, output, but not necessarily farm yields (per hectare). In essence, the marginal increase in soybean production in the country is not really because yields are improving dramatically but because more farmers and land expanse are being committed to it.

The USDA further says expanded yields are also due to private sector investors putting money and resources into increasing crop output to meet the growing needs of local feed millers and poultry farmers. One example is Olam Nigeria, which partnered with IITA to promote varied commercial soybean varieties suitable for the different agro-climate conditions across Nigeria.

Also, the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), through its Soy Excellence Center also located within IITA, is facilitating farmers’ access to viable seeds. In addition, USSEC capacity building efforts are also ensuring good agricultural practices. As of March 2022, USSEC has trained more than 300 farmers in best agronomic practices.

In addition, the USAID-funded West Africa Trade, and Investment Hub (Trade Hub) has also launched a co-investment partnership with IITA through its business incubation platform (IITA BIP) to boost the soybean value chain in Nigeria.

“We know that Soy, whether it comes from the US or whether you grow it here, has a very good balance of the amino acids that are needed in the human diet and in animal diets, to put flesh on the bones,” said Stan Born, vice-chairman of USSEC who was part of a delegation to Nigeria recently, and had an interview with BusinessDay.

He further expressed the willingness of USSEC to “share what we know, collaborate, and help Nigeria improve the nutritional balance in its population because we know that will help the country be more successful.”

While acknowledging the US also “has a product to offer” via Soybean exports, he said USSEC’s intervention in Nigeria is not “a quid pro quo- it doesn’t mean that if we help you with this, you have to buy US Soy, not at all.”

Jim Sutter, CEO of USSEC also said that while Nigeria currently produces enough soy to supply domestic feed needs, in the future, those domestic feed needs will grow a lot.

“Maybe domestic production of soy will double or triple, but I think Nigeria will also need to import and that’s what we’re trying to get ourselves positioned for,” he said in an interview. He also highlighted China where he said virtually all domestic soybean production goes to producing human-used products.

“On the other hand, they’ve grown their meat consumption, which has driven the demand for imported soy to meet their meat production. I think that Nigeria could certainly see the same sort of thing happening,” he said. Therefore, while Nigeria currently sees less direct consumption of Soybean products, which could be a way of boosting protein intake, more of it can be encouraged without necessarily jeopardising supply to the animal feed industry.

According to Governor Ayade, “even if as a country we choose not to import (Soybean) and depend solely on local production, we do not have the landmass.” He said Nigeria sees farm yields of about 25 percent what the US gets on the average one hectare farmland, making as he said, “Nigerian farmers farming in vain”.

He said in a speech, that Nigeria has 923,000 square kilometres of land, out of which 40 percent is not arable. “Our shifting cultivation methods make competition for land tough, as well as urbanisation and our land tenure system,” he said. “Therefore, as a policymaker I realise it is important Nigeria must reach a level of collaboration to support import of soybean into this country while supporting local production.”

According to him, the “time has come for our cabotage law to be reviewed. If you are importing an essential product like soybean, which is very essential in the food system, the government must support the process of food import.

“The factors that govern the cost of soybean beyond its production in the US pertain to its transport to Nigeria,” he said.

Soybean according to IITA’s report is good for food through soy-milk, soy flour, soy-cheese, dadawa, Tom Brown (infant weaning food); it is the source of an excellent (cholesterol-free) vegetable oil; it is used in industries for paper coatings, wood veneer, adhesive and alkyd resins, printing ink, etc; it improves soil fertility and controls the parasitic weed, Striga hermonthica; soybean cake is an excellent livestock feed, especially for poultry, and; the haulms provide good feed for sheep and goats.

The uses beyond human consumption are also very huge, including Biofuel, according to governor Ayade. But first, Nigeria needs to have enough of it to meet its crucial human and animal needs, which will culminate in improving nutrition across the country.