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Soy Safari: USB leaders find big market potential in Africa

Agriculture.com Staff 09/23/2008 @ 3:02pm

Female farmer-leaders of the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff from around the country recently traveled to Africa to build relationships with African agricultural leaders toward the end of expanding marketing opportunities there for U.S. soybeans and soy products.

This "Women in Soy" trip, according to a USB report, is part of the soybean checkoff's effort to grow demand for soy and create new markets for the U.S. soybean farmers in continents such as Africa, which is a new area of interest for checkoff international marketing efforts.

"Connecting with African women is important for U.S. soybean farmers," says Sharon Covert, a soybean farmer from Tiskilwa, Illinois, who was one of the USB directors on the trip. "Nearly all of the households in Africa are run by women, and women are involved with 80% of agriculture in the continent. This makes reaching out to African women important as a way to establish relationships with the continent's soybean industry and work to grow demand for soybeans in the continent."

Marketing efforts are underway in Africa for a reason: USB leaders say the growing demand for soybean products in Africa represents a market opportunity for the U.S. in an area traditionally dominated by China and Mexico.

"The mission is about stimulating the global soy economy and creating a demand for soybeans. Even if they're not purchased from the United States, there is added value," says Ashley Harding, Agriculture Online Field Reporter who accompanied the Women in Soy trip. "A higher demand will translate to higher exports for the U.S. as well as empowering Africans and improving global health.

"The delegation hopes to teach the farmers how to improve their agriculture production and processes. So what does this mean for U.S. farmers? There is a great potential for exports now, but it could present competition in the future if southern Africa realizes its potential."

As part of the trip, the checkoff farmer-leaders met with Soy Southern Africa, an organization founded to help grow South Africa's soyfood industry. The Women in Soy team attended the 10th International Soyfood Conference and Soyfood Seminar, which was hosted by Soy Southern Africa.

At the seminar, Andrew Makanete, South African Bio-Fuels Association, discussed the potential Africa has to increase world soy production by a full third. Southern Africa has the highest global biomass potential but is also the world's most inefficient producer, according to Harding. South Africa imports nearly twice the amount it produces.

The checkoff farmer-leaders also took time to visit local African farmers to better learn the dynamics that a female soybean farmer in Africa faces. The group met with agricultural leaders at local markets and other food outlets in the country as well as a corn processing plant that is interested in importing defatted soy flour.

"There is currently a protein deficit in Africa and soy is a cheap and abundant source of protein. As U.S. soybean farmers, we can work in conjunction with the women farmers in Africa to grow demand for our product and help fill their protein deficit," says Covert.

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