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Soils / / Higher income, healthier soil: Kenyan farmers capitalise on soya bean

Higher income, healthier soil: Kenyan farmers capitalise on soya bean

The value of soya bean as a lucrative commercial crop and remedy for tired soils has been highlighted in a recent post by Farmbiz Africa.

One thousand farmers from Mumias District in Western Kenya were first introduced to the leguminous crop by CIAT researchers carrying out soil analysis and soya trials in 2006.

Since then, the farmers have turned it into a profitable income-earner and a source of nutrition for their nitrogen starved soils. As a result, some farmers are adopting soya as their rotation crop of choice – soya can fix nitrogen into the soil and thus increase soil fertility and crop yields.

Soya bean Kenya farmers see effect of BNF John Mukulama blog

Mumias farmers inspect the effect of biological nitrogen fixation

Higher yields
In Mumias District, crop rotation is a relatively new concept. Many farmers in the area grow sugarcane, a popular cash crop, yet continuous cultivation over long periods of time has left soils overexploited. This unremitting over-mining has affected crop yields with few attaining the 14 tons of sugarcane per hectare that they used to. It’s a problem that is also affecting the small areas of land farmers reserve for food production, which undergo continuous maize cultivation with limited, if any, rotation.

Since CIAT has been working with the farmers, crop rotation and intercropping has grown in popularity. Some are now intercropping soya in the initial stages of sugarcane growth to give the soil a nitrogen boost. And those farmers rotating soya and maize are now harvesting up to 30 per cent more maize than before.

Soya John Mukalama

A soya farmer from Mumias surveys his crop

Iddi Makokha, a member of the Mumias District Federation of Soya Bean Farmers (MUDIFESOF) explains:

“Initially, in an acre I used to acquire [harvest] about 13-15 bags [of maize] even after upholding all the best husbandry methods, however, the script changed for good after introduction of Soya in my farm. I first planted it with caution just on a little portion but when I planted maize the following season on the same portion, the one acre gave me five more bags. Out of excitement, there was no way I could not put all my four acres under Soya and currently I rotate Soya and Maize, a move that has not only enabled me feed my family but also get income from the sale of the surplus harvest.”

Fuller pockets
Higher yields are bringing farmers higher incomes. Preliminary investigations of soybean grain production costs and benefits have shown that farmers in western Kenya have profited from soybean cultivation, with margins estimated at 30-40%.

At a time when house-hold land sizes are declining, those farmers who have received training and committed more than one acre of land for soybean production have experienced substantial increased incomes.

Part of Tropical Legumes II (TL-II), a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centres (CIAT, ICRISAT and IITA) across India and eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa, CIAT’s research aimed to increase the productivity and production of legumes as well as raise the income of poor farmers with improved varieties.

CIATs objectives were two-fold – work with farmers to select new high yielding, nitrogen fixing soya varieties, and support the development of soya markets to increase farmer incomes and provide an incentive to continue planting soya to increase soil fertility.

After all, if we want smallholder farmers in Africa to adopt technologies that improve soil and farm productivity, then we also need to support them to exploit market opportunities and improve their incomes.

In 2011, as supply started to outstrip demand, CIAT sourced private-sector partner – Promisador, a multinational food processing company operating in 25 African countries and which manufactures Sossi in Kenya, a soybean meat product.


Soya bean grown in Western Kenya is used for local soya product, Sossi

Soya bean Kenya including soy in local recipes John Mukulama blog

Farmers also include soy bean in their local recipes









The soyabean success observed in western Kenya has been attributed to strengthened partnerships among farmers and farmer organizations, national agriculture research systems, soybean processors, agrodealers (seed, fertilizers and pesticides), universities financing and information providers and the CGIAR Consortium centers.

Support for CIAT’s soyabean work in western Kenya is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, under the project Three-Tier-Approach for sustainable soybean promotion in Kenya, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) through the TL-II Project.



Photo credits: Neil Palmer; John Mukulama; Promisidor

  • Julius Kinjabe

    I wish to have my one acre land under soybeans this season. I am in Bungoma (Bumula). please advice.
    reply to jkinjabe@yahoo.com


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  • Julius Kinjabe: I wish to have my one acre land under soybeans this season. I am in Bungoma (Bumula). please advice. reply to jkinjabe@yahoo.com
  • Hellen Chege: #Talk soil When carrying a soil test on a given farm that has different section(tree zone, backyard e.t.c) should the soil sample be mixed or are they treated differently?
  • erichj: Clean Biomass cooking is no small thing. The World Bank Study; Biochar Systems for Smallholders in Developing Countries: Leveraging Current Knowledge and Exploring Future Potential for Climate-Smart Agriculture http://fb.me/38njVu2qz has very exacting analysis of biomass usage & sources, energy & emissions. Also for Onion farmers in Senegal and Peanut farmers in Vietnam. A simple extrapolation made from the Kenya cook stove study, assuming 250M TLUDs, (Top-Lite Up Draft) Cook Stoves for the roughly 1 billion folks world wide now using open burning. A TLUD per Household of 4, producing 0.52 tons char/Household/yr, X 250M = 130 Mt Char/yr Showing sequestration of 130 Million tons of Biochar per year, could be achieved just from cooking. In terms of CO2e, these 250M Households reduce 825M Tons of CO2e annually. The cascading pulmonary health benefits for woman & children is the very thick icing on this 0.825 GtCO2e Soil Carbon Cake.
  • Getabu: I am searching for soya beans which matures less than four months. please let me know where to get them and contacts of the sellers. reply to rainbowrural@yahoo.com thank you. meroka
  • chrispin okumu: Our group partners with N2Africa in western kenya.https://www.facebook.com/pages/Livelihood-Environment-Agriculture-Food-LEAF-project/415038845239972?ref=hl