An effort to promote the production and consumption of soybeans as a means of improving nutrition in Nigeria.




Rapid population growth and crippling economic problems in many African countries have reduced living standards and adversely affected eating habits, causing widespread malnutrition. In Nigeria, a faltering economy has led to declining imports of costly protein-rich food. Moreover, currency devaluations in other countries have resulted in drastically reduced imports of oil and animal feed.


In 1987, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), under the guidance of Principal Researcher Dr. Kenton Dashiell, launched an ambitious effort in Nigeria to combat widespread malnutrition. With support from the International Development Research Centre, IITA embarked on a project to encourage using nutritious, economical soybeans in everyday food. Soybeans are about 40% protein - more protein-rich than any of the common vegetable or animal food sources found in Africa. With the addition of maize, sorghum, wheat, rice, or any other cereal to soybeans, the resulting protein meets the standards of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Soybeans also contain about 20% oil, which is 85% unsaturated and cholesterol free.

Few Nigerians knew about soybeans until the IITA initiative provided information on everything from their nutritional benefits to how to plant, harvest, store, and prepare them. Since then, soybean production and consumption has increased dramatically, improving nutrition particularly among the urban poor and middle income groups. Soybean-fortified products not only have more protein and minerals than their non-fortified counterparts, they are considerably cheaper than other sources of high-quality protein such as fish, meat, milk, and other protein-rich legumes. The cost of protein, when purchased as soybean, is only about 10-20% of the cost of protein from fish, meat, eggs, or milk. Many Nigerians now incorporate soybeans into their diets, and the Nigerian government has declared soybean production and utilization a national priority.

Dr. Dashiell elaborates on some of the reasons this project has been so successful:

"All of the team members had a very clear vision of the project's purpose - to improve the lives of rural farmers by giving them a crop that could be easily grown, harvested, stored, and cooked, and which would improve their nutrition. The goal was also to create a strong demand for soybean so that excess production could be sold for a good profit. This is why we also put a big emphasis on developing soybean-based foods that were also popular among urban dwellers.

While strict scientific standards were always observed in our research and development work, the objective was not to develop 100 new ways to use soybean. Rather, our goal was to find a few ways that it could be used every day in people's homes. This meant that participatory research methods were essential. We knew there were problems if we taught our target population how to cook 10 different soybean dishes and a week later none of the recipes were being used. This happened to us several times, but we didn't get discouraged. We would continue to interact with the people to understand why they didn't accept the new dishes. We considered a new recipe (or method) a success if 20 to 50 percent of the families were using it one week after it had been introduced. If this happened in several villages, then we started to have confidence in the method. The next step was then to disseminate this new technology.

There was no need to disseminate anything until we were very confident that the technology would be rapidly and easily accepted. We had strong support from television and radio stations, newspapers, hospitals, rural health clinics, women's groups, religious groups, market women's groups, and so on. We would disseminate our method to any interested group, keeping the message simple and practical. Often there were two or three training programs a week, and newspapers regularly published articles about soybean. We also encouraged groups to organize their own training programs after we had taught them.

The market women were a very strong group. Once they knew how to cook soybean, they were very willing to explain these methods to their customers so they could sell soybean. Working with industries was also very rewarding. Whenever we met someone in the food processing business who had an oil mill and an interest in soybean, we always did our best to give them all the available information, show them our pilot processing plant, and visit their factory to assess whether their equipment was suitable for processing soybean. If not, we would help them contact local companies that could make processing machines for them, and help them find soybean to buy, and so on. Many of these people are now processing soybean."


Implementation Status:

The positive impact of this project has far exceeded the expectations of even the researchers. This can be attributed in part to the methodology, which relies on the strong leadership of the IITA, the active participation of local institutions, training for researchers and others involved in the project, information sharing and technical support for entrepreneurs, and the participation of users in developing local food. The approach has been recognized within Nigeria and in the international community, as demonstrated by repeated requests for information from governments and international organizations interested in documenting the results.


  • Production increased - Soybean production in Nigeria increased from about 28 metric tonnes in 1985 to about 200,000 tonnes in 1995. The 1995 crop was worth an estimated US $60 million, saving Nigerians an equivalent amount of foreign exchange in just one year of this project. Since then, soybean production and consumption have continued to increase.
  • Number of soybean farmers increased - The number of soybean farmers in Nigeria has increased tenfold to about 500,000. All the soybeans they produce are being used domestically. The price of soybeans has also increased, improving incomes for growers.
  • Training increased - As a direct result of the IDRC project, more than 47,000 Nigerians (30 000 of them women) have been trained in producing soybeans and how to incorporate them into their diets. They have, in turn, trained others. Some reasons given by individuals for incorporating soybean into their diet are that it is nutritious, versatile, tastes nice, and is a good substitute for expensive protein.
  • New equipment developed - This project has led to developing soybean processing equipment, which has since been adopted for both home and commercial use.
  • Industry increasing - The number of soybean-processing industries in Nigeria has increased from less than five to more than 65, including small-scale businesses and larger enterprises. Several large industries, including Nestle Foods and Cadbury, have incorporated soybeans into some of their products, which has proven to be very popular.
  • New soybean use developed - The IDRC-sponsored project has been instrumental in encouraging the development of more than 140 soybean-based foods, including soya milk and yogurt, soya flour, biscuits, baby food, condiments, and breakfast cereals. The newest product that has become very popular in Northern Nigeria is tofu. Participating research institutions in Nigeria have developed recipes that incorporate soybeans into new and traditional foods.

    One such recipe is Soy Vegetable Soup:

    Ingredients: Soy paste, milk residue, raw or cooked soy flour, green leafy vegetable (any type), tomatoes, pepper, salt to taste, onion, and palm, groundnut or soy oil.


    1. Grind the tomatoes, pepper and onion.
    2. Add them to warm oil and cook for 10 minutes.
    3. Add soy paste, milk residue or soy flour and water. Cook for another 15 minutes.
    4. Boil vegetable according to type. Cut into pieces and add to the soup.
    5. Cook gently for 5 minutes.
    6. Serve the soup with rice or other starch.

  • Offered in many new markets - Soybean-based products have become a common market commodity in some areas of Nigeria where retail sales of soybeans were once virtually nonexistent. In Ibadan, for example, retailers selling soybean products increased from only four in January 1987 to 824 in January 1993.
  • Information disseminated - To encourage the use of soybeans, IITA publications, such as "Soybean for Good Health," were translated into three African languages - Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Training workshops have been held to encourage home-based soybean processing.
  • Diets improve - As a result of the projects' training activities in the Ibadan area, four hospitals are now producing soyflour to sell to patients with a view to improving their diet.
  • Technology transfer - The success of this project has also helped secure funding from UNICEF to extend soybean production and utilization technology to more villages, and to establish a shop specializing in soybean-based products and nutrition information.

Future Outlook

IDRC funding has expanded this project into Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire where results similar to Nigeria's are expected. This research involves determining the extent of soybean production and use; using the experience gained in Nigeria to develop home- and small-scale processing technologies for soybean-based foods; developing, producing, and introducing soybean processing equipment; and training national researchers and other personnel in soybean production, processing, and use. The researchers have also trained several people from Uganda, Kenya, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This has created a stronger demand for soybeans in these countries resulting in increased soybean production and use.


For soybean promotion to be effective, the research team in any country needs to develop a few home-based soybean uses that are easily and rapidly accepted. Incorporating raw (uncooked) flour into traditional foods is often a good method. Information on appropriate soybean varieties, production techniques, planting dates, harvest and storage techniques should also be presented to both men and women in rural villages and to urban groups (women are the most important target in urban areas).

Good soybean varieties for Nigeria include Samsoy 2, TGx 1448-2E and TGx 1485-1D. In most locations the farmers need to plant in June or July with about 300,000 plants per hectare. Because the farmers are poor, they do not have machines to help with the harvesting or threshing, so all this is done by hand. One of the major requirements for soybean production is at least 500 mm of rain in one three-to-four month growing season. More rain and a longer growing season are fine. The soil should have a pH of 5.0 or higher. If maize grows well in an area, then soybeans will also do well. The most important factor for storage of soybean is that the grains are dried to 12% moisture or less. Sun drying is satisfactory. Insect damage is not usually a problem during storage. The grains can be stored in jute bags if the relative humidity is low, but if it is high a polyethylene bag is needed.

These conditions, combined with effective promotion, should lead to a gradual expansion of soybean production and use. If there are two or more industries producing soybean-based products, production can increase quite rapidly because the industries will be competing with each other and families for soybeans. This competition increases the demand for soybeans and, as a result, production increases rapidly.

Potential Users

Promoting soybeans is valuable in countries where other high-quality protein is unavailable or too expensive. The methodology is of interest to international research and development organizations and other agencies involved in agriculture, nutrition, and health.

Submitted by:

Dr. Kenton Dashiell, Project Leader
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
Oyo Road, PMB 5320 Ibadan, NIGERIA
Tel: (234-2) 2412626
Fax: (871) 145 4325

Serge Dubé or Elizabeth Turpin
International Development Research Centre
BP 11007 CD Annexe Dakar, SENEGAL
Tel: (221) 244231 or 240920
Fax: (221) 253255

Latest articles


Air Pollution



Endangered Species




Global Climate Change

Global Health


Natural Disaster Relief

News and Special Reports

Oceans, Coral Reefs



Public Health



Toxic Chemicals


Waste Management


Water and Sanitation

Yale Himalaya Initiative