URBANA, Ill. – Last month, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new $30 million investment in the Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) at the University of Illinois. The competitive grant was awarded under Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative led by USAID.
The grant recognizes SIL’s nearly 10-year progress toward developing a robust soybean value chain across Sub-Saharan Africa and dedicates additional resources to ensure end-users adopt life-changing new products.
“We’ve done the discovery research, but we need to get end products through the last mile so that soybean farmers all across Sub-Saharan Africa can adopt these technologies,” says Peter Goldsmith, director of the Soybean Innovation Lab and professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at U of I. “Our technology solutions incorporate the product life cycle and directly address acute bottlenecks, such as the lack of seed, persistent low yields, and manual threshing challenges that limit a sustainable soybean value chain in Africa.”
The five-year project marks the initiation of “SIL 3.0,” the latest iteration of USAID-funded soybean value chain research from the center. SIL 3.0 seeks to remove “last-mile” obstacles to localizing technology adoption, including issues around licensing new soybean varieties; productivity-improving technology adoption by soy processors and food manufacturers; and mobilizing credit and investment to support organizations’ capital needs as they deploy these technologies through their large and active networks.
“The U of I has a long history of work building knowledge and capacity for agricultural development in Africa and an even longer record of research on soybean production and utilization. Under Goldsmith’s leadership and with USAID’s support, SIL has married our capabilities in international agriculture and soybean value chains to make a real difference globally,” says Alex Winter-Nelson, acting associate dean of research for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. “We are delighted USAID has selected Illinois to lead its latest efforts in using soybean as a mechanism for addressing global poverty and hunger.”
The Soybean Innovation Lab was founded in 2013 (SIL 1.0) with a competitive Feed the Future grant to develop the foundation for soybean success in Africa. Following a funding renewal that kicked off SIL 2.0 in 2018, SIL turned its focus to scaling technology solutions for widespread release. Since its inception, SIL has entered into partnerships across 46 countries; educated thousands of farmers and breeders; created and commercialized a multi-crop thresher to reduce threshing time by 80%; developed 55 locally adapted soybean seed varieties now under release; and produced low-cost input bundles yielding 260% more than standard practice.
Recognizing the role of women as smallholder farmers and household decision makers in Africa and worldwide, gender equity and inclusivity are rolled into all of SIL’s development activities. In addition, SIL 3.0 structurally integrates youth capacity building, environmental protection, climate resilience, and ICT connectivity into its technology platforms.
"The new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean led by the University of Illinois will provide critical research and innovations that make high quality, nutritious foods more affordable for African consumers, while ensuring that smallholder farmers contribute to and benefit from the growing role of soy-based foods in Africa," says Rob Bertram, chief scientist in USAID's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
The Feed the Future initiative supports 21 Innovation Labs across the U.S. These labs partner with institutions in countries across the globe to develop their agriculture sectors, with the goal of reducing poverty, hunger, and undernutrition. The Soybean Innovation Lab is the only lab to focus on this important high-protein crop.
Read the USAID announcement here.