The Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials: Fast-tracking the Introduction and Testing of Commercial Soybean Varieties
Soybean is a growing global commodity crop with strong demand due to its use as an edible oil and as a key ingredient in animal feeds. Farmer yields in Sub-Saharan Africa are one-third the average yields worldwide. One reason is the limited quantity and poor quality of soybean varieties available to farmers. Public sector breeders struggle due to a lack of resources and are unable to release improved and locally adapted varieties on a regular basis. Private sector breeders do not develop new varieties because they lack protection of the intellectual property. In many African countries, there have been no new varieties released in over 10 years despite their active breeding efforts in nearby countries. To increase access to high-yielding varieties, the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) — together with partners at the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) — initiated the Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials.
SIL’s Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials fast-track the introduction and testing of commercial soybean varieties sourced from across Africa, the U.S., Australia, and Latin America to provide the private sector, farmers, and processors with access to a broader selection of seed than what is currently available. The program consortium leverages its role as an independent third party and its unique access to international, regional, and national supplies of high-yielding and disease-resistant germplasm to swiftly bring new varieties to market. By the end of 2020, the PAT program will be in 24 countries across 196 locations.
Six high-performing soybean varieties have already been registered and are accessible to farmers in Uganda, Malawi, and Ghana as a result of the research and findings from the PATs. An additional 10 soybean varieties are in the process of being registered in Cameroon, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Malawi. Local seed producers now have access to multiple varieties for registration, multiplication, and commercialization, rather than just one or two aged national varieties.
Breeders and seed companies understand that seed contracts and royalties are central to commercialization. Public breeders now see a new revenue source for their breeding programs. Private breeders see new markets, and a low-cost way to enter these new markets. Local seed producers see a way forward to improve farmer productivity. This 3-part incentive-based structure of the PAT is enabling countries across Sub-Saharan Africa to shift away from seed saving practices and towards a sustainable private sector seed system complex that will drive soybean development. This incentive-based system will lead to higher yields, profitable soybean production, and reduced poverty and hunger across the African continent.