A largescale soyabean farming project in Nyanza and Western provinces to diversify farmers' incomes and reduce the country's soya imports has been scaled up to 17 counties, from the initial two, in just three months.
Farmers in the two provinces have traditionally derived income from low paying maize and sugarcane, with acidic soils and the high costs of fertilizers conspiring to deliver returns so low that many have struggled to survive.
But the Sh200 million soyabean project funded by Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) in partnership with Japan International Corporation Agency (Jica) has brought a 20 per cent increase in income to smallholder farmers who have been able to sell readily to local feed manufacturing companies and oil companies who use soya as a raw product.
The commodity is also gaining popularity in the area as it corrects the long-running and profound nutrient erosion of the soil. In 2009-20120, farmers in the area lost as much as 80 per cent of their yields as a result of poor soils blamed on the overuse of synthetic fertilizers.
“Farmers lose crops due to pests and insect invasions, or vagaries of weather and the loss is huge, but never have we seen such a huge loss due to soil acidity. One in three farmers didn't harvest anything during that time. It has taken very many projects to fix this problem, but at least it's working,” said Nathaniel Wekesa, an agricultural extension officer in the area.
Planting soyabeans is one such initiative. The bean fixes nitrogen in the soil - a nutrient fundamental in the growth of crops, but affected by the application of the fertilizers – with farmers who have entered the project already reporting a considerable increase in yields.
“I have planted soya beans for the last three months, and I have managed to plant it together with other crops like potatoes. They told me both potatoes and the soya beans would grow just fine since soya bean doesn't compete for nutrients with the other crops, and in fact fixes the soil. I think it's true, since things have changed in my land. I am getting more potato yields for sale,” said Hellen Wasike, one of the farmers who lost virtually everything due to the tired soil on her farm.
She is now planting soyabeans and potatoes on her three quarter of an and has managed to enter into a contract with a local posho mill which assists her in selling the soya bean to a local nursery school.
Soya is very rich in protein and is a globally recognised pre-packaged meal for humans and a source of protein for animal feeds around the world. Soya is also the main component of some processed foods and supplements such as soy meat, soy flour, soymilk, soy oil and confectioneries.
Its products are also considered rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and contain flavones, which dieticians and physicians say help to prevent cancer. Soya products have no cholesterol. They are also a relatively cheap source of high protein content and contain a lot of fibre rich in calcium and magnesium.
The price of soyabean has also been rising, with local demand outstripping supply to the point that some 50,000 metric tonnes a year are now being imported, and local soyabean farmers now earning Sh150 per kg up from Sh40 per kg two years ago.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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