Soybean farmers in the United States can choose from a “candy store” of hundreds of varieties of soybean seed — high-yielding seed with proven performance traits for every region and latitude. Soybean farmers in Africa may 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. A new coordinated soybean variety evaluation program is underway that will address these problems and give African growers more and better seed options.
“An important component to establishing a foundation for soybean in Africa is having a third-party trial program. It’s vital to have independent confirmation about varieties, yield, adaptation to a particular area, yield performance in area A versus B, and disease resistance,” says Peter Goldsmith, University of Illinois economist and principal investigator of USAID’s Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL). “Through a partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which operates independently from its parent company, we are transforming the process of soybean seed production by introducing the concept of variety testing.”
Goldsmith explained that the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture has extensive experience running variety and input trials across Africa. “They have 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.