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SoyCows Bring Business Opportunities to African Communities

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Juelda and Emelia, employees of the Winnua Company operate a SoyCow in Mocuba, Mozambique. (Photo Credit: Krystal Montesdeoca)

Producing soy milk and soy yogurt on a small scale in African countries has the potential to change the nutritional landscape for thousands of people.  Soy foods provide a high-quality, adaptable and economical protein resource for households and communities where other sources of protein are inaccessible due to cost or availability.  Community-scale soybean processing units known as SoyCows are capable of providing entrepreneurs with new market opportunities that support both economic growth and nutrition.

Yet entrepreneurs struggle with ensuring the sustainability and success of these small-scale soy food enterprises. While there has been significant analysis on the nutritional benefits of soy milk and other soy food products, very little analysis has been done utilizing primary data to assess the economic sustainability of local soy food enterprises.

To understand what makes small-scale soy food enterprises sustainable and successful, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab, SIL) is establishing a soy dairy enterprise network, currently with five soy dairy enterprises in Ghana and Mozambique.  The lab is training the enterprise managers to recognize the importance of benchmarking their businesses, specifically addressing cost of production analyses, equipment utilization, economic performance, income generation, volume of product produced, and number of people served.   

Krystal Montesdeoca and Dr. Marilyn Nash, the Soybean Innovation Lab Soybean Nutrition Specialists, are working with the soy dairy enterprise network in Ghana and Mozambique to provide technical guidance and support along with metric tracking and performance evaluations. 

“The metrics on production and product distribution are important quantifiable results to help managers know how their soy dairy enterprise is progressing. Follow-up support from SIL helps operators ensure their enterprises achieve high-quality and continuous production standards to meet consumer demand and their unique business goals,” Dr. Nash said.

These microenterprises, many of which are women-led, encounter challenges related to shelf life, packaging, distribution channels and market access.  Others struggle to find a reliable source of soybeans and credit and financing options to continue production while identifying new markets and customers.

In the northern region of Mozambique, the Mocuba Winnua Ltd. Company operates a SoyCow facility as part of the Soybean Innovation Lab’s human nutrition efforts. This company already has a maize flour brand and is looking to develop a similar presence in soy dairy in Mozambique. Mocuba Winnua Ltd’s soy milk and soy yogurt processing center started in spring 2015 and a few months later their production took off. Their nutrient-rich and tasty soy products are receiving a warm welcome in an area where food insecurity is common among rural households.

Support from local bank BCI enables Mocuba Winnua to deliver soy milk daily to a school located near the soy dairy processing center. The high-quality protein delivered in one 8 oz. serving (approximately 200mL) of soymilk can meet one-third to one-half of the protein requirements for the students. Teachers report students are more attentive, more engaged, and eagerly look forward to their daily serving of soy milk.

“The soy dairy enterprise network is the first of its kind, connecting SoyCow operations throughout Africa to enable entrepreneurs to share their gathered experience, business practices, training, and technological knowledge,” Montesdeoca said.

The SIL team will continue to strengthen the growing soy dairy enterprise network throughout Africa by providing data-driven results, evidence-based knowledge, and new technologies. Establishing a sound foundation for soy dairy entrepreneurs will, SIL hopes, spur more successful businesses, and in turn stimulate economic development, improved nutrition, and reduced poverty.  

The Soybean Innovation Lab 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.

To become a part of the soy dairy enterprise network or to learn more about the network, contact us at: soybeaninnovationlab@illinois.edu

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.