In Northern Ghana, It’s the SoyCows That Are Boosting Protein in Kids’ Diets

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This story was featured in the USAID FrontLines Magazine in the July/August 2016 issue.

In Northern Ghana, where an estimated four out of 10 children are malnourished, a low-cost, high-protein food source like soybean is in high demand. The high-quality protein delivered in one 8-ounce serving of soymilk can meet one-third to one-half of the protein requirements for school-aged children.

Few have access to protein resources like meat, milk and eggs here. Fortunately, the protein contained in soybeans is comparable to animal protein. However, unlike animal protein, soy is readily available and affordable. Yet producing soy foods and familiarity with the nutritional and health benefits of soybean is lacking.

Flora Amagloh distributes a soy enhanced dish to women villagers near the town of Saboba in Northern Ghana. (Photo Credit: Flora Amagloh)

Flora Amagloh hopes to change that.

“We’re visiting schools in our communities, distributing soy milk to the school children as a means of creating awareness among the children on the nutritional and health benefits of soybean, and also to introduce them to soy,” she said.

Amagloh is a food scientist with the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Ghana. The institute is one of 13 under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana. It is located 16 kilometers west of Tamale in the northern region of Ghana, where researchers develop and introduce improved technologies that will enhance farm productivity.

In 2015, SARI partnered with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (SIL) to develop a soy foods enterprise facility at the institute.

SIL is USAID’s only comprehensive program dedicated to soybean research for development. An international team of tropical soybean experts provides technical support to practitioners tasked with soybean development, including private sector firms, NGOs, extensionists, agronomists and the National Agricultural Research System.

“We decided to accept the challenge and see how we could contribute to our community by improving the nutritional status of women and children, particularly in northern Ghana,” Amagloh said.

SARI and the Soybean Innovation Lab partnered with the organization Malnutrition Matters to install and provide training for soy processing equipment known as a SoyCow. A SoyCow is a device that grinds and cooks whole soybeans, turning them into soy milk and into other soy foods like tofu. A SoyCow consisted of a grinder, ten-gallon pressure cooker, filter press, and steam boiler with all of the equipment easily fitting into the back of a small pickup truck.

Left to right: Marilyn Nash, a soy nutritionist with the National Soybean Research Laboratory and lead researcher for the Soybean Innovation Lab’s human nutrition efforts; Flora Amagloh, a food scientist with the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI); and Krystal Montesdeoca, a food business economist with the Soybean Innovation Lab, stand in the SoyCow processing facility at SARI. (Photo Credit: Krystal Montesdeoca)

These devices are well-suited for developing countries where they provide employment for three to six people and promote entrepreneurship, while providing nutritional food to hundreds.

There are currently five SoyCow operations in Ghana.

Amagloh’s facility currently employs two women and three men. Since the installation, the facility produces soy milk four times per day, three days a week, yielding a total of 35 liters of soy milk per day.

The soy dairy facility serves three purposes, to perform sensory evaluations on the adoption of soy products, provide soy product samples for community outreach efforts, and supply local schools with nutritious soy milk. As the business becomes established, Amagloh hopes to also supply soy dairy products to local supermarkets, hospitals and restaurants.

Amagloh recently received a grant from USAID and the Agricultural Technology Transfer project to distribute soy milk to local schools. The school feeding program currently provides soy milk to about 300 preschool, primary and junior high school students three times per week.

“Providing soy milk daily to children in school encourages their regular attendance. The children look forward to their morning soy milk, and for many this will be their breakfast. Teachers report that this protein rich snack improves their ability to be alert and attentive, and increases their energy,” said Marilyn Nash, lead researcher for the Soybean Innovation Lab’s human nutrition efforts.

School children at St. Monicas School enjoy soy milk provided by Flora's soy dairy facility. (Photo Credit: Flora Amagloh)

In addition to running the soy facility, Amagloh travels to surrounding communities providing soy milk tastings, basic nutrition education and demonstrations on preparing soy-enhanced dishes. Flora receives support from Catholic Relief Services who helps facilitate the village level trainings. 

“We want to train women entrepreneurs and that’s one of the things we’re doing in the local community, showing them how they can process soy milk. Not with our sophisticated equipment, but at the household level so they can generate income in their own way to provide additional revenue for their family,” said Amagloh. “We will make the soy dairy facility (at SARI) not just a self-sustainable commercial soy dairy operation,” she added, “but also be able to provide needed research and training to others in the community.”

Flora Amagloh prepares vegetables with women villagers for use in a soy enhanced dish near the town of Saboba in Northern Ghana. (Photo Credit: Flora Amagloh)

Amagloh’s outreach is part of a strategic business plan developed by SARI to ensure the soy dairy facility becomes sustainable with a developed market and strong customer base. It is also part of a soy dairy enterprise network developed by the Soybean Innovation Lab. The network supports and trains managers to recognize the importance of good recordkeeping and formal managerial control, shares best practices and conducts trainings.

“The soy dairy enterprise network is the first of its kind, connecting soy dairy operations in Ghana and Mozambique, and eventually worldwide, to enable entrepreneurs to share their gathered experience, business practices, training and technological knowledge,” said Krystal Montesdeoca, the Soybean Innovation Lab’s food business economist.

Establishing a sound foundation for soy dairy enterprises will, the Soybean Innovation Lab hopes, spur more successful private sector growth, and in turn stimulate economic development, improve nutrition and reduce poverty.

About Feed the Future: Feed the Future is the U.S. Governments’ global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty, and undernutrition. For more information, visitwww.feedthefuture.gov.

source: USAID FrontLines Magazine