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Africa’s soybean sector takes the international market by storm

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Africa’s soybean sector takes the international market by storm

In Africa, many farmers are turning to soybean cultivation. The international demand for this legume and its by-products is rising significantly. With its potential to dominate the global market, soybeans are becoming a flagship product of African exports.

Promising sector in full expansion

Soybeans, a highly nutritious food, present a profitable investment opportunity for Africa. This legume has vast potential due to its various uses, ranging from producing milk and animal feed to industrial processing and direct consumption.

Western countries have successfully eradicated malnutrition by leveraging the benefits of soybeans. Africa must follow their example and harness soybeans’ nutritional advantages to improve its population’s health and quality of life.

Increased demand for soybean by-products

Soybeans are known for their oilseeds, which provide the most consumed cooking oil worldwide. Its high nutrient content makes it a highly demanded crop, particularly in countries where consumers prefer healthier diets. According to Mordor Intelligence, nearly 23 % of Europeans are flexitarians, with the majority aspiring to become vegetarians.

In terms of nutritional value, 100 g of dried soybeans contain the same quality of digestible proteins as 150 g of steak. This makes soybeans an excellent ingredient for a healthy diet. It is not surprising that the demand for soybean-derived products such as flour, meal, oil, lecithin, tofu, and milk is constantly increasing. However, countries with high soybean consumption produce little, creating a commercial opportunity for Africa.

Emerging market for soy lecithin

The soybean agro-food sector is booming, with expected growth of 20 % per year in the coming years. Soy lecithin, a choice derivative, meets the increasing demand for nutritional supplements aimed at preventing lifestyle-related ailments such as metabolic disorders, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, lecithin is highly valued in the food emulsifier industry, especially for products targeting cardiovascular health. According to projections by Mordor Intelligence, the lecithin market is expected to reach 960 million USD in 2023, with a cumulative annual growth rate of 6.15 % between 2023 and 2028.

Which African countries are the largest soybean producers?

While Africa is not officially ranked among the world’s top soybean producers, the region shows significant potential. The leading countries in this sector are :

  • South Africa : The « Rainbow Nation » stands out with a record production of 2.4 million tonnes in 2022-2023, a 21 % increase compared to the previous period.
  • Nigeria : As the main producer in West Africa, Nigeria records an annual production of 300,000 tonnes of soybean meal and 68,000 tonnes of soybean oil.
  • Togo : This nation has seen a significant increase in soybean production in recent years and is currently on the rise.

Togo : Leading exporter of organic soybeans to Europe

In terms of production, Togo has experienced remarkable growth, increasing from 25,000 tonnes of soybeans in 2015 to 200,000 tonnes in 2021. The following year, the harvest reached 280,000 tonnes, and CIFS estimates for 2023 predict 300,000 tonnes. Togolese farmers grow two varieties of soybeans: traditional and organic.

In Togo, 80 % of traditional soybeans are processed locally and 20 % are exported. About 60 % of the country’s organic soybeans are destined for export, primarily to Europe. The remaining 40 % is reserved for local processing. Additionally, Togolese soybeans successfully penetrated markets in the Netherlands, Vietnam, the United States, and India.

Challenges and development prospects of the soybean sector

The cultivation of soybeans offers undeniable profitability and social benefits for the African population. In Togo, for instance, this sector is more lucrative than other crops, attracting numerous farmers. Currently, the country’s Interprofessional Council for the Soybean Sector (CIFS) comprises 24,000 producers, including 9,000 women.

However, the increasing dependence on a single crop raises concerns for food security and environmental sustainability. Channeling resources and attention towards soybean cultivation at the expense of other cereals could diminish agricultural and dietary diversity, while also exposing farmers to market fluctuations in the soybean sector.

Compliance conditions for organic standards

Transitioning from traditional crops like cassava and yam to soybeans poses significant challenges. Many farmers in Togo do not own land and must lease it, making entry into this sector a costly investment often beyond their means. Successful transition is supported by organizations such as CIFS and the National Federation of Soybean Producer Cooperatives.

Organic soybeans destined for export must meet stringent certification standards to enter the European market. While soybeans grow rapidly, maturing in just three months, organic cultivation requires careful planning to maintain soil health. This includes allowing for annual cropping and rotating plots every four years to replenish vital nutrients.

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