Soya bean is another crop farmers can explore in Malawi for commercial production. It is one of the most important crops in the country and is also versatile as it has many uses domestically and for industries.
Soya beans are rich in protein, oil and essential minerals and help improve soil fertility.
Production of soya beans has increased in Malawi over the years due to government policies on crop and export diversification and value addition. Consequently, there is a significant expansion of the soya bean industry locally, with significant demand on the export market.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development estimates that Malawi has produced 129,000 metric tons of soya this year, down from 135,000 tons last year. The reduced production is due to drought that hit most parts of the country in the last cropping season.
The reduced production and increased demand have resulted in favourable prices for the crop, with latest prices on the commodity exchanges pegging it at around K350 per kilogramme.
This year, Malawi has been able to export soya beans to regional markets such as Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zambia produces a lot of soya and has been a source of soya imports for Malawi when local processors fail to satisfy their requirements locally but latest developments in that country have turned things around and Zambia has this year become an export market for Malawi’s soya.
New policies in Zambia have restricted importation of cooking oil, yet farmers there are unable to produce enough oil seed such as soya to meet the new demand. The processors have now turned to regional markets such as Malawi for their extra soya requirements.
In Malawi, demand for soya among local processors is also very high because of increased production of soya “meat” pieces, which have become a convenient and affordable relish among many families in the country. This is in addition to Likuni Phala producers who also require a lot of soya for blending with maize to make the porridge.
Some processors are also using soya to make cooking oil as well as feed for the poultry and fish industries in the country.
As a result, over 80 percent of soya beans produced in Malawi are now being used locally, with only between 10 and 20 percent being exported to the regional markets.
The soya bean industry, therefore, presents appetising opportunities for farmers, with even more prospects for growth as an industry. Farmers interested in commercial production can explore soya beans as a business and crop diversification opportunity.
There is increased private sector interest, especially among processors, to support and enhance soya bean production to meet local demand.
Various suitable crop varieties adaptable to almost all agro-ecological zones have also been produced and are available to farmers and the formation of the Soya bean Association of Malawi and Legumes Development Trust presents further opportunities for the support and sustainability of the production of the crop.
A 2016 Guide on the Production of Soya Beans in Malawi by the Malawi government’s Department of Agricultural Research Services reports on agronomic studies on soya beans which show that the crop is well adapted for production in all agro-ecological zones in Malawi. However, soya bean yields are still low as farmers obtain 800 kilogrammes per hectare on average against the potential yield of 2,000 to 2,500 kgs per hectare, according to the guideline
Planting of high-yielding varieties, now widely available locally, can help farmers increase yields per hectare.
Other challenges facing soya bean production in Malawi, according to the guideline, includes diseases such as soya bean rust, pests such as leaf eating caterpillars and leaf rollers, unpredictable demand, terminal drought that affect pod filling, small seed sizes and overall low seed quality, poor soil fertility and continued use of recycled seed among farmers in the country.
Farmers interested in growing soya this year can obtain further information by visiting the website: https://www. researchgate.net/publication/265736526_A_guide_to_soybean_production_in_Malawi
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