The Global Communications and Protocol team (GCP) in Illinois International sat down with Dr. Peter Goldsmith (PG)—Principal Investigator of the Soybean Innovation Lab and Associate Professor of Agribusiness Management in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—to discuss his recent trip to Ghana and how the Soybean Innovation Lab is tackling sustainable abundance.
GCP: How did the Soybean Innovation Lab get started?
PG: We had made the argument that soybean had the potential to be a really good development crop—meaning that it could transform a rural economy from one of poverty to one with sustainable abundance. Initially, it was a very hard sell because soybean is not a popular development crop. In terms of the supply chain that is dominated by multinational seed companies, soybean's principal use is as livestock feed. But USAID, in part through conversations with us here at Illinois, recognized the importance of this kind of research and agreed that we needed to try something different here. So, this was kind of a radical move to invest into a high value, non-traditional crop.
With support from USAID, the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) started in 2013 focusing on Feed the Future countries. Illinois is the lead institution and we have also partnered with the University of Missouri, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Mississippi State University, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, and with in-country public and private institutions.
GCP: What is unique about SIL's approach?
PG: The traditional academic approach is to invest money in a project, allow the researchers to conduct their process without too much involvement from the investor, and then evaluate the project after a period of three years or so. Our process supports a much more intimate relationship between the management and researcher so that we behave as a team. This creates synergies which we can leverage within the multi-disciplinarity of the group.
With SIL we have created a culture that is all about the work is being done in Africa. There is no bench pattern—where you pick up your expenses and operate your bench here (at Illinois)—and that is a big change. However, it actually benefits the researchers, allowing them to be directly at the front line of changing lives. That’s what we are transforming. We are not out doing something as an aside, we are at ground zero of ensuring sustainability.
Our presence in Africa is very embedded, and our farms are really research extension farms that focus, formulize and use rigorous science. We provide guidance to practitioners, industry, extensionist, researchers, and farmers about how to grow tropical soybean. That includes, among other focus areas, what are the appropriate agronomic practices including row spacing, fertilizer use, and pesticide management—which does not exist because soybean is a new crop in the area.
GCP: What was the purpose of your trip to Ghana?
PG: In July 2016, we spent time in Ghana working with our partners to ensure that our projects are running well. We also held two events called “Soybean Kick-Off Events.” This is like a soybean field day where farmers, policy makers, and industry can come in and see the soybean varietal and agronomic trials.
We also set up a food manufacturing center so that participants can work with soy and see how the product can be used in local dishes. This helps us address questions about how we bring soy to enhance Ghanaian foods, because not only in Ghana but throughout Africa, the consumption of starch is very cheap, common, traditional, and it is very bulky so people’s stomachs are full but nutrition, namely protein, is not there.
GCP: What is the most popular soy product in Ghana?
PG: One of the most popular dishes that utilizes soy is Palava Sauce. It is a traditional Ghanaian dish that has had soy flour added to it, which increases the amount of protein in the dish. We have partners who help develop these recipes and then they take all these ingredients to the villages and offers trainings on how to make these modified dishes. The Palava Sauce is typically served over potato or yam. We have digitized a number of these recipes as well so that they can be shared through different communication channels for our partners (http://soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu/soy-food-recipes).
Soy is really a complimentary food that helps preserve local tradition because it adds nutrition without heavily affecting the flavor of the dish itself.
GCP: What can we expect to see from SIL next?
PG: The SIL was initially a five-year project. We have the potential for renewal and so our efforts would continue to 2023. SIL initially started in five countries: Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Ethiopia. Now we have expanded to number of other countries including Mali, Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Uganda. We are expanding even further and have started new conversations in Sierra Leonne and the Cote d'Ivoire.
Our core mandate is that those countries interested in developing their soy complex have the opportunity to do so. We are here to provide the technical foundation—to bring the science and development together so that practitioners can actually be successful—whether its genetics, education, food technology, or field technology. I think we have been successful so far and we are looking forward to the future.
Upcoming SIL events on the Illinois campus
Third Annual International Food Security at University of Illinois Symposium
The tropics contain some of the most important biomes for managing a variety of environmental challenges from biodiversity to climate change. But at the same time, agricultural expansion in South America shows that the tropics can be highly productive in terms of grain production. Additionally, agricultural intensification holds promise to reduce poverty and malnutrition among the many rural poor residing in tropical zones. This symposium addresses the complex tradeoffs between environmental stewardship and agricultural intensification in the tropics.
View the complete symposium agenda and register online
About Dr. Peter Goldsmith: Dr. Goldsmith graduated in 1995 from the Ohio State University with a PhD in Agricultural Economics and is currently an Associate Professor of Agribusiness Management in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois. In 2006 Dr. Goldsmith was named the Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory in Urbana, Illinois. In 2009, he was named to the USDA’s International Agribusiness Education Taskforce, Global Advisor to the Galtere Agribusiness Fund, a member of the Academic Board of the Masters of Agribusiness Program at the University of Belgrano in Argentina, and a member of the advisory boards of the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies and the Center for Latin American Studies. In 2010, he was appointed as the Director of the Food and Agribusiness Management Program at the University of Illinois and as an adjunct professor at the University of Austral in Argentina. In 2011, he was appointed to the management committee of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss. In 2012, he became co-principal investigator of “Evaluating the Impact of Livestock Development on Poverty and Malnutrition”; a controlled natural experiment involving five communities and 330 households in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. Dr. Goldsmith, having worked the last dozen years in Matro Grosso Barzil and Argentina, is one of the world’s leading soybean economist with unique expertise in low latitude soybean production and agro-industrial development.
About SIL: The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab, SIL) is the United States Agency for International Development’s only comprehensive program dedicated to soybean research for development. The Soybean Innovation Lab is building a foundation for soybean production in Africa by developing the knowledge, innovation, and technologies to enable successful soybean production. As part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Soybean Innovation Lab works to reduce global poverty and hunger by accelerating growth in the agriculture sector through improvements in agricultural productivity among smallholder farmers. To learn more about SIL, visit www.soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu/. You can also follow them on Twitter @TropicalSoyLab
About Feed the Future: Feed the Future is the U.S. Governments’ global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty, and undernutrition. For more information, visit www.feedthefuture.gov.