Charity Kambani-Banda and Maggie Mzungu - Oct 16 2019
World Food Day: Is Soy the Solution?

Source: AgDiv

For World Food Day, Palladium's Charity Kambani-Banda and Maggie Mzungu explore a climate smart, economically viable technology that benefits women, communities, and potentially our planet. 

"Last year was not a good year for me," recounts Susanne Makoza, who was a recipient of food distribution in Malawi earlier this year. "The rains were too scarce for my crop to do well enough to feed my family." Malawi is a country that suffers from high rates of food insecurity and recurring droughts that affect the livelihoods of its smallholder farmers, which make up 80% of Malawi's population. In the country, 37% of children under five years old suffer from stunting and there is overall poor diversity and quality in people's diets.

But soy kits are helping to improve nutrition, empower women, and even curb climate change.

Soy kits offer a business opportunity for women. Source: AgDiv
Soy kits offer a business opportunity for women. Source: AgDiv

Why Soy?

Soy milk and other products that can be manufactured from soybeans are low-cost but nutritious sources of protein. In Malawi, soy is a crop widely grown, but not widely consumed – many of its products are low quality or cost too much for families. But using "soy kits" – small manually-operated tools that can produce up to seven litres of soy milk an hour – gives easy and affordable access to this source of protein.

Each soy kit contains all the tools and supplies for each step in the soy milk process, including a grinder, a heat retention bag, a thermometer and scale, various cooking equipment, and food hygiene products such as gloves. No electricity is required; each step is done by hand. The process starts with soaking the soybeans for eight hours, then grinding, cooking, filtering, and flavouring.

A soy kit, originally developed as "SoyaKits" by Malnutrition Matters, has everything needed to produce soy milk.
A soy kit, originally developed as "SoyaKits" by Malnutrition Matters, has everything needed to produce soy milk.

Soy is also a viable replacement for animal protein. Many families living in poverty cannot afford animal protein, such as beef, sheep, and goat meat. Even so, these livestock require more land and water than plant-based proteins and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gasses. A recent report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says eating more plant-based foods will "present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health."

While most livestock consumption comes from wealthy countries, climate change is expected to increase food insecurity, with parts of Africa, Asia, and South America already dealing with the effects. The UN’s IPCC researchers warn that the countries likely to be most severely impacted by climate change are often low-income places that have not been the leading contributors to global warming. Farmers in countries like Malawi are already facing intense weather patterns, decreasing crop yield, and increasing occurrences of shocks such as floods and droughts.

Empowering Women

In Malawi, the soy kit scheme targets women. The Feed the Future Malawi Ag Diversification Activity (AgDiv) provided soy kits to over 200 entrepreneurs (some on credit) – 80% of whom are women. Women are most often responsible for the cooking, and already have the necessary skills and know-how needed to process soy milk. They then sell their products at markets, schools, and clinics making extra income. Some of the best performing women entrepreneurs act as mentors for AgDiv's peer-to-peer network, through which they share skills and best practices with less experienced entrepreneurs through related trainings, demonstrations, and motivational talks.

Good for the Community

The benefits of these soy kits go beyond an individual's new protein source or a woman's extra income; they are benefitting entire communities. The soy products are sold to neighbours and school children, providing more and more people better nutrition. Working with the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, AgDiv has been able to redesign the soy kit with locally available components, making them more affordable and sustainable. This also provides job opportunities to local craftswomen who produce the heat retention bags required for soy milk production, giving extra income to more people.

The kits can also produce other products besides milk, including soy yogurt. The residual soy solids from production of milk and yogurt are called "okara" – which can be used to make soy snacks or can be included in baked products as a flour substitute. Okara can also be a nutritious addition to animal feed, which helps local farmers, and can be put into bread, soups, and stews. It is another product the women can sell for more income, and another product more people can use.

In the next year, AgDiv is planning to distribute another 2,000 soy kits, each of which will be produced locally and provided on credit to lay the foundation for a sustainable business model supporting community nutrition.

Palladium implements AgDiv for USAID and is partnering with the Soy Innovation Lab to promote soy kits and study their impact in Malawi. Soy kits were originally developed as "SoyaKits" by Malnutrition Matters - watch their video here