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Soybean Innovation Lab awarded $5 million to train Feed the Future Innovation Lab leaders on industry research management for successful international development

September 2021

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab, “SIL”) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been awarded $5 million by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to train and empower other Feed the Future Innovation Labs to achieve sustained impact from their innovations.  The new award, called “Innovation to Impact” (i2i) utilizes an innovative instructional design curriculum and matched management system to support Innovation Lab technology managers as they seek to reduce poverty and malnutrition globally through uptake and scaling of their cutting-edge technologies.

The new award leverages SIL’s demand-driven industrial research for development approach, which focuses on client needs first and works backward to build the products and services to directly improve their operations and organizations. Working across the soybean value chain, SIL has successfully brought innovations to scale by employing a research-for-development model that involves listening to its clients and then working together to build a readily adoptable solution they can scale through their networks in the short and medium timeframe.


The new $5 million award employs an advanced instructional design technique called “just-in-time learning.” The web-based curriculum simultaneously prepares Innovation Lab technology managers with the skill sets and knowledge to successfully bring their innovations to scale and impact through an understanding of the product life cycle stage gates, while also providing donors with a novel management system to measure and track returns on research investments.    

Innovation to Impact builds off an initial $1m investment by USAID in SIL to develop the beta version of the instructional design curriculum based on learnings from a cohort of Innovation Lab technology managers called the Innovation Team (“I-Team”). 


“The challenge for us as Innovation Lab managers is that we were trained in our PhD programs as researchers, so we are excellent at discovery, the first three stages of the product life cycle,” said Dr. Peter Goldsmith, Director of the Soybean Innovation Lab. “So, we need help if we are to take innovations through to impact, stages 4-8 of the product life cycle. That is where i2i comes in. It is a mechanism to help us transition from being researchers to innovation managers.”

Through this project, USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security seeks to address the gap between research for development investments and the adoption of improved technologies by changing organizational culture with respect to research for development. USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security works with a host of partners to advance inclusive agriculture-led growth, resilience, nutrition, and water security, sanitation and hygiene in priority countries to help them accelerate and protect development progress. The Bureau leads coordination of the U.S. Government's Feed the Future initiative to achieve the goals of the U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy to reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition.


Soy kits provide earning power for women entrepreneurs in Malawi

May 2021, by Marianne Stein, ACES

URBANA, Ill. – Women’s ability to work as entrepreneurs can help alleviate poverty and malnutrition in developing countries. As local governments and development organizations aim to encourage business opportunities, it’s important to identify projects suited for women’s lives in rural households.

The soy kit, which includes common household items such as a pot, spoon, thermometer, and cheese cloth, enables entrepreneurs to create value-added products from soy in small-scale household settings. The kit has potential to improve the economic conditions of Malawi women in a sustainable way, a University of Illinois study concludes.

“The larger issue is about adding value to agricultural products in the developing world as a means of raising incomes,” says Pete Goldsmith, director of the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at Illinois and corresponding author on the study, published in Food and Nutrition Bulletin.

“Women are often the ones taking care of children and elders, and holding the household unit together, so if they have access to more money and better nutrition that’s a critical component for improving the standard of living in developing countries,” he explains.

“Not all agricultural technologies are consistent with women’s skill sets, time constraints, and complementary resources. A food-based business such as the soy kit appears to be appropriate for women entrepreneurs but we had to test it to learn if that held up in practice,” Goldsmith says. 

Malnutrition Matters, a Canadian non-government organization (NGO), developed the soy kit. The USAID-funded Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity distributed the kit to more than 200 households over a period of 18 months. The SIL researchers assisted with the rollout and helped train the women in bookkeeping so they could collect data on the project’s economic feasibility.

The women entrepreneurs use the kit to process the soybeans and extract milk, from which they can make products such as flavored beverages, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. The process also yields a co-product, okara, a high-protein pulp used for animal feed or as an ingredient in baking or food preparation.

The soy kit is a viable alternative to the soy cow, a popular technology widely implemented throughout Africa. The soy cow also extracts milk from soybeans to create value-added products. While it does so well, it is an expensive piece of equipment that produces large quantities of milk, requiring dedicated space, electricity, and access to refrigeration, Goldsmith explains. The soy kit is a much more nimble tool, appropriate for individual households and easily adapted to local markets. 

“The products have a shelf life for a couple hours, and you only make as much as you think you can sell. You don’t need cold storage such as a refrigerator or freezer. You can put the products in sachets with some ice and take them to sell at fairs and by the roadside,” Goldsmith says. 

“The women know what people like, how to price the products, and where to find their customers. The project can leverage women’s intrinsic knowledge of the marketplace,” he notes.

Goldsmith and co-author Chungman Kim, an undergraduate student in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) who worked on the research for an independent study project, collected and analyzed the women’s bookkeeping data to track the economics of using the kit. To learn more about undergraduate student research opportunities, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences website.

The Canadian soy kit costs about $200, but entrepreneurs can assemble a similar kit with locally sourced materials for about $80. The women may already have some of the items, and they can use them for other purposes, adding to the kit’s versatility. Even if the women had to take out a small loan to acquire the kit without donor assistance, it would quickly pay off, Goldsmith says.

He and Kim calculated the income generation from the soy kit, estimating gross margins after subtracting production costs such as soybean, water, flavorings, sachets, and plastic bags. There are no capital investments in addition to the kit itself, since the women work from their own home, and the project requires no special storage or cooling facilities. The researchers found gross margins averaged 56%, and implicit wages – a means to estimate the value of labor – equaled $2 per hour.

While that is a significant amount in rural Malawi, it doesn’t mean the women can work eight hours a day at this wage. They need to adapt their production level to marketplace demands and time constraints. Still, the soy kit provides a good source of income that aligns with the greater goals of alleviating poverty and malnutrition in Malawi, Goldsmith concludes. 

SIL is a USAID-funded initiative comprising an international team of soybean researchers, currently operating at 120 locations in 26 countries.

“We provide technical support to development organizations addressing poverty and malnutrition. We can serve as the technical backstop, helping to determine appropriate ways to solve problems. This is what SIL and the University of Illinois do really well,” Goldsmith explains.

He also credits Maggie Mzungu, Charity Kambani, and Elizabeth Venable of the Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity with helping to roll out the soy kit project and collect data on the ground in Malawi.


The Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) and the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics are housed in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Illinois.

The paper, “The economics of the soy kit as an appropriate household technology for food entrepreneurs” is published in Food and Nutrition Bulletin.  []. Authors are Chungman Kim and Pete Goldsmith.

Gender course

March 2021


The public-private partnership expands the availability of soybean inoculant to SIL’s Pan-African Soybean Variety Trial (PAT) Network across Africa.


URBANA, ILLINOIS, USA – [Month, day] A unique public-private partnership with Rizobacter, a leading global producer of inoculants, provides the SIL Pan-African Soybean Variety Trial (PAT) network with access to a cutting-edge inoculant product, Rizoliq TOP, for use in the Africa-wide PAT platform. Through this partnership, Rizobacter also gains access to new African markets through the PAT network, which includes seed companies, nucleus growers, processors, national agricultural research stations, universities, and commercial farmers. 


Inoculant is applied to the soybean seed before planting to ensure the right type of bacteria for the plant are present in the soil. These bacteria help the plant form nodules on the root system, allowing the plant to convert Nitrogen from the atmosphere into a compound that enables plant growth and the formation of beans.


"Currently as a company we are directly or indirectly supplying inoculant products in South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leona. And we are actively working on registration and looking for opportunities in many other countries,” said Ignacio Ardanaz, Rizobacter’s Business Development Manager for Africa and India. “It is a pleasure for Rizobacter to join SIL on the amazing work the lab is doing across Africa."


Rizoliq TOP is formulated with OSMO PROTECTION TECHNOLOGY, which provides the inoculant with a higher concentration, a more robust physiological state, and greater tolerance to stresses therefore improving the survival of microorganisms on the seed. The higher concentration of Bradyrhizobium japonicum ensures that the radicle of the germinated seed is quickly infected, accelerating and maximizing the process of biological fixation of nitrogen.


“This partnership provides the soybean industry with to access a high-quality source of inoculant, which is an extremely effective and low-cost solution to improving soybean productivity,” said Dr. Peter Goldsmith, Director of the Soybean Innovation Lab. “It also helps growers of other legume crops gain access to this important resource by introducing the supplier, Rizobacter, to wider markets.”


The Rizobacter team is in regular communication with the SIL PAT network across the 26 trial countries and 115 locations to ensure the Rizoliq TOP product is effective for the various operators, who range from seed companies and commercial farmers to research stations and institutes.


Through important public-private partnerships like this, the Soybean Innovation Lab charts a sustainable path for the future of the Pan-African Trial (PAT) platform, which fast-tracks the identification, registration, and release of new, high-yielding soybean varieties sourced from a global network of public and private-sector seed suppliers.


About Soybean Innovation Lab

The Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) works to improve food security and nutrition around the world. SIL is a team of technical soybean experts that provide evidence-based innovations, tools, and technologies across the value chain to enable sustainable livelihoods through profitable soybean production and utilization across Sub-Saharan Africa.

CONTACT: Steph Adams | | +1-217-333-2032

March 2021

Free online course uses real-world examples to explain role of gender in agricultural development

A new course developed for the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab offers an introduction to the important role that gender plays in all development activities, particularly international food security and agricultural development.

Using case studies from experiences in the field, the course is designed for anyone working in development, including practitioners, researchers, students, and private sector business partners. The course, Increasing Your Gender Responsive Agricultural Development Capacity, is free of charge and accessible to all.

women threshing.png

“The course demonstrates how a program, a policy, a law, or a planned action may impact women and men, boys and girls, differently,” said Dr. Kathleen Ragsdale, the Gender Impacts Lead with the Soybean Innovation Lab and Director of the Gender Impacts Lab at the Social Science Research Center of Mississippi State University. “It’s recognizing both the similarities and difference of women’s and men’s lived experiences, and how their lived experiences both shape and are shaped by their cultures and societies.”

One of these differences is in control over resources. Across sub-Saharan Africa, women who are smallholder farmers are typically responsible for feeding their families but are less likely to share control or ownership of the land that they themselves till, sow, and harvest. However, research has shown that when women farmers have some ownership and decision-making powers, food security and agricultural development programs see better outcomes for everyone: men, women, and children.

In Ghana for example, the Soybean Innovation Lab helped groups of women farmers gain access to mechanized threshers that can decrease the amount of time spent threshing crops by 80 percent – as compared to threshing by hand by beating with sticks – which is the norm in many sub-Saharan countries. As a group, women were better able to earn greater profits on their crops, reduce the amount of back-breaking labor it takes to hand-thresh crops, get crops to market quicker, and have greater access to credit.

Women in this program reported having greater authority within their farming community. One participant explained: “The men in our community have seen our importance, and they can’t believe we have a thresher to ourselves. When they want to use our thresher, they come, and we negotiate in a meeting.”


Similarly, in an example from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish, researchers found that although women are equally as likely to pursue fishing, processing, and selling fish as livelihoods, they are less likely to have ownership and control of fishing assets critical to their economic and nutritional success.


Women often do the back-breaking work of hand-threshing and are required to thresh their husbands' crops before their own. Photo credit: USAID

Women and fish.jpg

With the goal of improving nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for infants and young children in rural Zambia where stunted growth is very high, the FishFirst! Zambia research team is investigating the specific ways women entrepreneurs might start or expand businesses while filling an important gap in high-quality, low-cost, and locally available fish-based foods for mothers and children.

“We found that providing real-world examples of outcomes resulting from gender responsive practices can trigger a 'lightbulb moment' for a lot of people.

"Everyone wants to see their projects have more and a longer-lasting impacts, and the course gives them the platform to begin to think about ways that they can accomplish this,” said Dr. Mary Read-Wahidi, Co-Director of the Gender Impacts Lab.



The Feed the Future Innovation Labs, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), draw on the expertise of top U.S. universities and developing country research institutions to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges in agriculture and food security.

The Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) provides researchers, extensionists, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and funders operating across the entire value chain the critical information and technology needed for the successful advancement of soybean development in Africa. SIL provides support to the Gender Impacts Research program at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center.


The Innovation Lab for Fish at Mississippi State University works to provide researchers, extensionists, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and funders operating across the entire value chain the critical information and technology needed for the successful advancement of aquaculture and fisheries sectors in East Africa, West Africa, and Asia.

Dr. Kathleen Ragsdale is a Research Professor with the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. She is the Director of the Gender Impacts Lab, the Gender Impacts Lead with the Soybean Innovation Lab, and the Gender & Youth Engagement Lead with the Innovation Lab for Fish.

Contact: Tel: 1+662-325-9168 Email:


Dr. Mary Read-Wahidi is an Assistant Research Professor with the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. She is Co-Director of the Gender Impacts Lab, the Gender Impacts Co-Lead for the Soybean Innovation Lab, and the Gender & Youth Engagement Co-Lead for the Innovation Lab for Fish.

Contact: Tel: 1+662-325-3760 Email:

University of Zambia student Mwatiko Tembo conducting a Fish4Zambia survey with a young woman. Photo credit: K. Ragsdale, Mississippi State University

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