The agricultural landscape in Africa plays a crucial role in the economic development, food security, and global trade dynamics of the continent. Among the diverse array of crops cultivated, soybeans have emerged as a key player, contributing significantly to both domestic consumption and regional trade. As an essential part of both global and regional agricultural landscapes, soybeans play a crucial role in meeting the growing demand for food and animal feed that is rich in protein. With a focus on key soybean-producing nations such as Nigeria and South Africa, as well as emerging contributors like Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, soybeans are a crop that stakeholders should consider.

However, according to research by Margaret Cornelius and Peter Goldsmith published in the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, African producers supply less than 1% of the world’s soybeans. Moreover, the global average yield is 2,761 kilograms per hectare, while African producers yield less than half of that amount at 1,259 kilograms per hectare due to various factors. Because the crop is not intended for direct household consumption, it is produced on a small scale. This results in a persistent yield gap, with levels reaching only a third of those obtained in developed countries. There is underutilization of inputs such as irrigation, fertilizers, and improved seeds. There is a need for a definite shift from small to large-scale production if the continent wants to increase its share of global production. Against the backdrop of diverse climates, soil conditions, and regulatory frameworks, it becomes imperative to understand the nuances of soybean production in Africa, as explored herein.

South Africa Leads the Way in African Soybean Production

South Africa has emerged as a key player in the global soybean market, experiencing significant growth in production over the past decade. The country produces approximately 2.7 million tonnes of soybeans, of which 2 million tonnes are used for domestic consumption. The majority of the domestically consumed soybeans are used to produce soymeal for animal feed production. Currently, local production only meets 10% of the domestic demand for soybean meal, with the remaining 90% being imported from Argentina. Data from the USDA reveals a steady upward trajectory, with farmers expanding the area under soybean cultivation to meet the increasing demand for this versatile crop. The estimated soybean yield for MY 2022/23 is 2.36 metric tons per hectare (t/ha), which is an 18 percent increase from the five-year average. Moreover, according to the USDA, South Africa has expanded its soybean area by almost 9-fold over the past 20 years. According to this data, the positive trend in soybean plantings will continue in MY 2023/24, but at a less aggressive pace. Softening input costs may lead some producers to switch back to corn. Therefore, Post forecasts a three percent expansion to 1.2 million hectares in the area planted with soybeans in MY 2023/24.

The increase in acreage indicates that the agricultural sector recognizes the economic potential of soybeans. This surge has been driven by farmers’ growing interest in using soybeans as a rotational crop with corn, as well as a growing local demand for soybeans due to extensive investments in oilseed processing plants. A significant driver of the soybean boom in South Africa has been the supportive stance of the government. Policies aimed at agricultural development, such as subsidies, research funding, and extension services, have established a conducive environment for farmers. Government initiatives play a pivotal role in empowering farmers to adopt best practices and embrace technological advancements in soybean cultivation.

Additionally, the country’s soybean production is driven not only by the demand for soy-based products within its borders but also by the potential for exports. Farmers have responded to market needs by adopting advanced agricultural technologies, including genetically modified soybean varieties known for their resilience to pests and herbicides. Moreover, South Africa’s soybean production trends are intricately linked to global trade dynamics. Fluctuations in international soybean prices, trade agreements, and the demand from major importing countries contribute to shaping the production outlook.

Nigeria Invests More in Soybean Cultivation

Additionally, Nigeria, being one of Africa’s agricultural powerhouses, has experienced a consistent increase in soybean production in recent years. The cultivation of soybeans has become a vital component of the nation’s agricultural landscape. This is driven by its significance as a source of protein for human consumption and as a key ingredient in animal feed. According to Statista, in 2023, the production of soybean meal in Nigeria was estimated to be 688 thousand metric tons. Between 2010 and 2023, the soybean meal crop in the country increased in output, registering the highest growth in 2015, at about 46 percent compared to the preceding year.

Moreover, Soybeans hold a central place in Nigeria’s domestic consumption patterns, serving as a dietary staple with versatile applications. Soybeans are widely used in traditional dishes and play a significant role in meeting the population’s protein needs, particularly in a country where protein deficiency is a concern. Soybeans are not only a dietary staple but also a crucial source of edible oil, which is extensively utilized in cooking and food preparation. This contributes to the overall consumption of edible oils in the country.

The versatility of soybeans extends to the production of various soy-based products, including soybean meal used in animal feed, which supports the livestock and poultry industries. Recognized for their nutritional value, soybeans are highly regarded in the pursuit of balanced diets and in addressing malnutrition concerns, especially among vulnerable populations. Rising health awareness has driven the popularity of soy-based products, as consumers actively incorporate soybeans into their diets for their numerous health benefits.

Soybeans find their place in diverse culinary applications, seamlessly adapting to both traditional and contemporary recipes. Government initiatives emphasizing the nutritional importance of soybeans contribute to increased awareness and consumption. The growing population and changing dietary preferences are further driving the market demand for soybeans. There is potential for continued growth as consumers increasingly seek protein-rich and nutritious food options.

As the population grows and dietary preferences evolve, there is a significant market demand for soybeans and soy-based products. The potential for further growth in domestic consumption is evident, with opportunities for targeted awareness campaigns, culinary innovations, and the development of new soy-based products to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

Africa’s Soybean Consumption Trends

Africa imports nearly as much soybean as it produces to meet the continent’s domestic demand. Africa consumes about 618,000 tons of soybeans annually, with only 4,800 tons being used for animal feed. The majority of soybeans are used for edible oil production and other soybean products, such as soybean texturates, which are excellent substitutes for meat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sub-Saharan Africa is a valuable market for U.S. soybeans. The USDA projects that soybean and soybean meal feed usage in the region will increase by 59% and 35%, respectively, through 2029.

Egypt is one of the largest importers of soybeans in Africa, relying heavily on soybean imports to meet the demand for soybean oil, which is a key ingredient in the Egyptian diet. Similarly, Morocco and Algeria primarily import soybeans for the production of soybean oil. The demand for vegetable oils, including soybean oil, has increased in these countries due to changing dietary patterns. As a result, there is a higher demand for soybean imports. With its growing population and expanding food processing industry, Nigeria is also a notable importer of soybeans, which are used for both edible oil production and as a crucial component in animal feed. South Africa, being a major producer of soybeans, also imports soybeans to meet domestic processing needs. The country has a significant soybean crushing industry that produces soybean oil and soybean meal for both the local market and export. Tunisia, Kenya, and Senegal are also significant importers of soybeans on the continent.

Production remains challenged.

Despite the positive trends, the soybean industry in Africa faces its fair share of challenges. Access to high-quality seeds remains a primary concern, impeding farmers’ ability to achieve optimal yields and resistance to pests and diseases. Furthermore, the insufficient state of agricultural infrastructure, including transportation and storage facilities, leads to post-harvest losses, which restrict the effectiveness of the soybean value chain.

Climate change also introduces a layer of unpredictability, with fluctuating weather patterns affecting soybean crops. Variability in rainfall and temperature fluctuations can hurt soybean crops, resulting in lower yields. Implementing climate-smart agricultural practices and promoting drought-resistant soybean varieties are essential steps to mitigate the effects of climate-related challenges. Pests such as aphids and pod borers, along with diseases like rust and bacterial blight, pose significant threats to crop yield. The vulnerability of soybean farmers is further exacerbated by limited access to affordable credit, which hinders investment in essential inputs and modern farming practices.

Insufficient availability of extension services exacerbates these challenges, impeding the dissemination of vital knowledge and best practices among soybean farmers. This hampers the adoption of improved farming techniques, which in turn hinders the overall productivity of soybean cultivation. Market access issues and price volatility also impact farmers’ income, influencing their decisions on further investment in soybean cultivation. Additionally, the lack of substantial investment in research and development restricts innovation, hindering the development of high-yielding and disease-resistant soybean varieties customized to local conditions.

Regulatory Landscape of Soybeans in Africa

The cultivation and trade of soybeans in Africa are governed by a set of quality regulations aimed at ensuring the safety, integrity, and nutritional value of soybean products. These regulations are crucial for fostering sustainable agriculture, protecting consumers, and facilitating international trade. One of the quality concerns surrounding soybean production revolves around seed certification and genetic modification. Seed certification regulations are in place to maintain the quality of soybean seeds propagated within the continent. This involves ensuring purity, germination rates, and the absence of contaminants. Certified seeds contribute to higher yields and the adoption of improved soybean varieties. Certified seeds are also an excellent defense against specific diseases in soybeans. Sclerotinia, for example, is a sporadic fungal disease that affects soybeans and is nearly impossible to control once symptoms appear. Using certified seeds ensures protection against such problems.

Similarly, regulations govern the cultivation and trade of genetically modified (GM) soybeans, which are modified for traits such as pest resistance or herbicide tolerance. These regulations address issues related to environmental impact, potential cross-contamination, and labeling requirements. Various countries on the continent have different viewpoints when it comes to genetically modified (GM) soybeans. South Africa, for example, allows for the cultivation and utilization of genetically modified (GM) soybeans. On the other hand, Nigeria allows for the utilization of the same for feed and food production but is still undecided about its cultivation.

Different countries also have varying regulations for residue limits of pesticides and agrochemicals used in soybean cultivation. Compliance with these limits is crucial to ensure that soybeans meet safety standards and do not pose risks to human health or the environment. This is especially important from a food safety perspective, as these concerns become even more relevant in the context of global trading relations. These regulations specify acceptable levels of contaminants, such as mycotoxins and heavy metals. Adherence to these standards is essential to ensure the safety of soy-based products for human consumption. Additionally, to facilitate international trade, soybeans are often subjected to grading and classification standards. These standards define criteria for size, color, and other quality attributes, ensuring consistency and transparency in the global market.

Different countries also have nutritional labeling regulations, which often require accurate nutritional labeling of soy-based products. These regulations aim to provide consumers with information about protein content, fat composition, and other nutritional aspects, ensuring consumer protection. This supports making informed dietary choices. Regulations also mandate clear and accurate labeling of soybean products, including information on their origin, processing methods, and any potential allergens.

Environmental and Sustainability Considerations

As sustainability becomes increasingly important in the face of climate change, some regions are incorporating sustainability certifications to encourage soybean farmers to adopt environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices. Certifications may address issues such as deforestation, water usage, and biodiversity conservation. There is a complex relationship between soybean production and deforestation. Major global players like Cargill and Bunge are frequently embroiled in controversies surrounding deforestation linked to soybean production, particularly in South America. To address this issue, they have implemented strategies to ensure that they exclusively source soybeans that are free from deforestation.

According to the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), as international markets expand, the production of in-demand commodity crops, such as soy, has shifted to tropical regions. Now, multinational companies are increasingly turning their attention to Africa, which offers an abundant supply of agriculturally suitable land. According to a study by CABI, rates of deforestation in Africa remain significantly lower than those in Southeast Asia and South America. However, since 2000, the continent has lost an area of primary forest roughly equivalent to the size of Iceland. So far, the expansion of commodity crop production in sub-Saharan Africa has been primarily driven by small and medium-scale local farmers, rather than industrial plantations. This approach allows for expansion with minimal disruption to forests. However, this is set to change as multinational companies are increasingly acquiring land by clearing intact forests. However, the researchers suggest that Africa could avoid the deforestation caused by large-scale monoculture in regions like Southeast Asia by implementing policies that prioritize forest conservation and local land controls. This is, therefore, a particularly important aspect of the regulatory landscape for soybeans.

Future Outlook and Growth Drivers

While production remains challenging in Africa, the future of soybeans in the continent presents growth opportunities, driven by various factors. According to Torq Commodities, the soybean industry in Africa is projected to experience significant growth in the coming years. It is expected to have a volume growth rate of 1.154 million tonnes per year from 2022 to 2027. Moreover, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the soybean industry in Africa is anticipated to reach 6.84% from 2023 to 2030.

The demand for protein-rich foods, including soybeans, has increased throughout Africa. As populations grow and incomes increase, there is a greater emphasis on incorporating protein sources into diets. Soybeans, with their high protein content, are well-positioned to meet this demand. According to Grand View Research, a reputable market research company, the global plant-based meat market was valued at USD 4.40 billion in 2022 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.9% from 2023 to 2030. Growing consumer interest in plant-based diets, coupled with increasing awareness of animal rights through various welfare organizations, is expected to drive market growth.

Domestic consumption of soybeans is also expected to increase in the coming years in several African countries. Soybeans are not only used as a protein source in traditional diets, but they are also processed into various products such as soy oil, soy flour, and soy-based beverages. This growth is driven by changing dietary preferences and increasing awareness of the nutritional benefits of soy products. Additionally, the livestock and poultry industries in Africa are significant consumers of soybean meal, which is a byproduct of soybean oil extraction. The expansion of the livestock sector contributes to the increasing demand for soybean meal as a protein-rich feed ingredient. This dynamic is particularly significant in countries experiencing a rise in meat production, such as South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

Another important growth driver is government initiatives and support. Several African governments have implemented initiatives to support soybean production and processing. These initiatives often include subsidies, research funding, and extension services. The aim is to promote sustainable soybean farming practices and enhance the competitiveness of the soybean value chain. Additionally, regulatory bodies promise to provide guidelines on various aspects of soybean production on the continent. As genetic modification is gaining popularity, government agencies have a significant role to play in regulating their adoption and ensuring the safety and quality of food remain uncompromised.

In conclusion, soybean production in Africa represents a dynamic and evolving sector, characterized by both opportunities and challenges. The continent has witnessed significant growth in cultivation, driven by the increasing demand for soy-based products, government support, and the adoption of advanced agricultural practices. However, challenges such as pest pressures, disease risks, and the necessity for sustainable farming practices underscore the significance of taking proactive measures and implementing innovative solutions. The soybean industry plays a crucial role in meeting the nutritional needs of expanding populations, supporting agribusiness, and contributing to both domestic consumption and potential export markets. As African nations navigate the complexities of global trade, environmental sustainability, and market dynamics, it is crucial to continue investing in research, infrastructure, and regulatory frameworks. These investments will play a key role in ensuring the resilience and prosperity of soybean production across the continent.

This feature appeared in ISSUE 7 of MILLING MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA MAGAZINE. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE