By Patricia Ngwale:
Although health benefits of milk and other dairy products are well known, not many Malawians are able to access them.
Supply of milk countrywide also remains too low to meet ever-growing demand.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) of the United Nations (UN) estimates that, on average in Malawi, an individual consumes between four and six kilogrammes (kg) of dairy products annually.
This is significantly below the African average of 15kg for an individual every year and further falling short of the World Health Organisation recommended consumption of 200kg per individual in a year.
The yawning gap in accessing milk and corresponding products moved Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar)’s Natural Resources College (NRC) to venture into agro-food processing which includes the extraction of milk from soybeans.
The enterprise provides a cheaper alternative for dairy milk.
Assistant Production Manager at NRC Agro-food Processing Unit, Nelson Banda, believes soybean is mostly underrated in Malawi.
He describes the legume, widely grown for its edible bean, as a “miracle crop that is highly nutritious”.
“Almost every household can manage to have soybeans. It might be difficult for someone to have cattle but very easy to have a small piece of land where they can grow soybeans to process into milk,” Banda says.
He further speaks highly of the crop whose milk he says is good for everyone since it is cholesterol-free and reduces the risk of diabetes and hypertension.
Banda states that since soymilk is also lactose-free, those who are intolerant to this type of sugar naturally found in most mammals’ milk can take the soybean milk without facing any health problems.
“This simple crop can do beyond what we generally imagine. There is need for everyone to consume its milk,” he recommends.
FAO states that the low-cost nutritious drink, which can also be used as ingredient in various milk-based recipes, is easy to extract without special technical skills.
The UN agency briefly describes the process as involving soaking soybeans overnight, cooking them in boiling water for 30 minutes, grinding them, mixing with cooking water before straining the blend and squeezing out the milk before boiling for another 15 minutes.
Thus, Banda believes Malawians willing to have a taste of soymilk can easily get it.
General Manager of the NRC agro-food processing unit, Sydney Namaumbo, says the soybean processing project was a response to the call for proposals by Feed the Future—a United States government’s global hunger and food security initiative—on value addition of soybean.
He says the call was meant for cooperatives and NRC was regarded as one of the project’s partners responsible for research and product improvement.
“NRC and other cooperatives were supported with a soymilk processing machine and training. During the first year, between November 2017 and November 2018, we dedicated our time to the development of the unit. It started serious business in January 2019,” Namaumbo says.
The primary goal of the initiative, according to Namaumbo, is to promote awareness on the importance of soy whose value in most households often ends at consuming the bean or its flour.
“So, the unit trains students on adding value to soybean through processing; reaches out to communities and outlines the nutritional importance of the crop. The unit also operates as a business model for the institution,” he explains.
Farming communities around NRC have not been left behind.
They are taking advantage of the soybean demand at the college to produce substantial yields for the readily available market nearby.
So, every moment they see huge stretches of fields taken up by the legume, operators of the processing unit are confident supply will not falter.
Farmers, too, sufficiently ward off fears that their yield may not find a ready and organised market.
“I work hard in my soybean field because I am assured of making profits. At NRC, we sell our produce without grumbling about low prices or other tricks common among vendors,” Joyce Nkhata, a small-scale farmer near the college, says.
She approves the institution of higher learning as a considerate customer that even beats the normal market price across the country.
“This gives us confidence to continue growing more. I was also among farmers who were trained in home-based ways of processing soymilk. We no longer lack it,” the mother-of-four says.
More than 400 NRC students have also been trained in using the machines in the training unit so that they can handle them once they leave the college and venture into agro-food processing businesses.
The training opportunity is not limited to students pursuing food related programmes.
“It is open to everyone. It is an extra advantage for students studying food technology as they have been assisted a lot in their research projects. The unit has been assisting those pursuing soybean related projects with resources,” Namaumbo says.
In the meantime, with the new processing factory constructed by the German International Cooperation, to ease the challenge of scuffling for equipment in the Home Economics Laboratory which is meant for students’ practical work, the project plans to apply for certification from the Malawi Bureau of Standards.