Researchers Use Soybeans to Tackle Malnutrition in Ghana

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ACCRA, Ghana — As part of an ongoing initiative between USAID, Malnutrition Matters and the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), soy milk provisions distributed to struggling Ghanaian communities are filling nutrition gaps. With the introduction of SoyCow machines, one small bean can keep children in school and turn everyday people into entrepreneurs.

The Problem of Malnutrition
In a nation where approximately one-third of all child deaths can be attributed to lack of nourishment, malnutrition in Ghana has reached critical mass. Matters of food insecurity and chronic malnutrition are made all the more pressing by the fact that 36.5 percent of Ghana’s total population (28.2 million) are children under the age of 15.

According to USAID, roughly 1.2 million Ghanaians deal with food insecurity. This statistic is also heavily weighted toward women and children. Although the percentage of underweight children has decreased steadily over the last decade, malnutrition continues to wreak havoc on Ghana’s citizens and its overall infrastructure.

While child death is certainly the most alarming symptom of malnutrition in Ghana, the issue also creates financial pitfalls that drag healthcare and education down. Kieran Guilbert of Reuters, referencing a study by the African Union, explained that undernourishment in children costs Ghana approximately $2.6 billion each year. It is an expenditure that makes up about 6.4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The Product
To alleviate costs and create long-term solutions, officials from USAID participated in the creation of Ghana’s Soy Innovation Laboratory (SIL) in 2014. The initiative is intended to serve as an extension of the organization’s Feed the Future initiative.

With help from a group called Malnutrition Matters, soy products were introduced to northern Ghana’s most undernourished communities. SARI came on board in 2015 to provide additional technological support.

Researchers and activists first brought soy milk to areas in which malnutrition ran rampant. They chose soy for a multitude of reasons, the most important of which is that soybeans contain twice as much protein as comparable vegetables, grains and legumes.

The plant is unique in that it packs a protein punch similar to what can be found in both meat and dairy milk. According to the National Soybean Research Laboratory, the absence of animal-based products in soybean production means that growers reap about 15 times more protein per acre than would have been provided by animals raised for the same purpose.

Soy-based meal supplements have also been shown to fill nutritional gaps in young children who are at risk of becoming malnourished.

The Solution
When Malnutrition Matters entered the fold, representatives set out with clear objectives. By bringing SoyCow machines to affected regions, they aimed to provide immediate nourishment to children through the use of soy products. Beyond that, they trained women in each community to use the devices and become entrepreneurs over time.

In doing so, they presented communities with sustainable solutions. Each SoyCow is made up of a large pressure cooker, grinder, press and boiler. These machines allow users to process mass amounts of soybeans so that crops never go to waste.

The ultimate goal of this ongoing project is to help everyday people tackle malnutrition in Ghana on a community-wide basis. The process creates stable, incremental change allowing local people to build their own food-based businesses. Autonomy is key in reaching long-term nutrition goals.

Although reaching these goals is critical, short-term successes also serve as valuable mile-markers that shed light on what lies ahead.

Researchers from SARI noticed, for example, that students who knew that they would receive a serving of soy milk every morning at school were more likely to attend. Teachers pointed out that their students had become more focused and alert, thus improving their overall performance.

There are currently three SoyCow facilities in Ghana, but SARI’s Flora Amagloh is also working to train women in northern communities to process crops without SoyCow machinery. This added step will likely create more stability within the movement.

Amagloh explained to Dan Bloomgarden of the U.S. Department of State that she wanted to teach women to process soy “not with our sophisticated equipment, but at the household level so they can generate income in their own way to provide additional revenue for their family.”

While the SoyCow initiative does provide those in northern Ghana with immediate access to protein-rich resources, immediacy is not necessarily paramount. The primary aim of this collective endeavor driven by USAID, Malnutrition Matters and SARI is to help citizens dismantle the systems that foster malnutrition in Ghana from the ground up.

With a few SoyCow machines and access to training, these organizations have provided Ghanaians with opportunity. From this opportunity springs long-term growth.

Madeline Distasio

Photo: Flickr

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