Not so in Africa. For a variety of political reasons, soybean farmers either only have access to a few seed varieties with an unimpressive yield potential, or a few high-yielding varieties for which no performance data exists for their latitude and altitude.
That may change, thanks to a new cultural fortitude which resists being controlled by Europe and a new coordinated soybean variety evaluation program to help give African growers more and better seed options.
Taking the lead is the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a foundation created by the biotechnology company Syngenta. In modern decades, activists have framed the debate so anyone who doesn't work for an environmental group is tainted by corporate funding, but to-date environmental NGOs have done little to help anyone, and African farmers have become disgruntled by their obstructionist tactics that use African malnourishment in their culture wars.
Soybean trial in Africa. Credit: University of Illinois
Using science rather than paying denier for hire to block progress, allows test plots and protocols, and managers to make sure everything is done consistently. Planting soybean trials at those same locations saves time and money. The trials are running at 12 locations in Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. Each research station tests about 25 varieties on small standardized plots, each about 12 by 15 feet.
“Varietal testing is a necessary piece of the process of assuring high quality seed is available to farmers, and in turn that allows farmers to be productive and profitable, which leads to reduced levels of poverty and malnutrition,” says Peter Goldsmith, University of Illinois economist and principal investigator of USAID’s Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL). “You don’t always know if the yield response was due to genetics, seed quality, agronomics, or just the wrong seed for that particular location. Varietal testing addresses that by testing a set of varieties in numerous locations. Soybean seed is very sensitive to both latitude and altitude so this kind of varietal testing gives objective, third-party assessment of the yield, disease resistance, etc.”
Goldsmith says the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab is looking at all of the pieces of the puzzle—breeder training, breeder equipment, capacity, ability to obtain and properly handle seed material, and the ability to test the varieties. “It’s like a pipeline with the farmer at the end of a long seed development and commercialization process. Without good varietal performance information breeders, multipliers, seed companies, and of course farmers do not have the information to make informed decisions. Varietal testing addresses that problem.”
Kenya has two rainy seasons so a pretest and one trial have been completed. Malawi and Zambia are at the pretest stage of the process and should have a first harvest soon.
Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
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