Health experts say soybeans are very nutritious as they contain all the three macro-nutrients — protein, carbohydrate and fat — as well as vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and iron. FILE PHOTO

On a sunny Tuesday morning, Lucas Malubi, a village-based agricultural advisor in Mungoye village in Vihiga county, visits Margaret Ngota and her husband Moses Ngota on their small farm to check on their soybean crop.
This crop is special because it was planted using Biofix, a product that helps legumes fix nitrogen in the soil.
“Use of organic fertiliser is a totally new concept in this area. But two years after we introduced it, you can see that it has become popular,” said Malubi, who offers extension services on behalf of Farm Input Promotions Africa, a not-for-profit company committed to improving productivity of small-scale farmers.
“We did not know much about soybeans,” said Margaret. “But after the crop was introduced on a trial basis by farm inputs, we realised that it could easily complement ordinary beans, which are often affected by too much rainfall that is prevalent in this area,” said the mother of eight.
The Biofix contains cultures of rhizobium bacteria that help in nitrogen fixation in the soil.
“Nitrogen is usually the most limiting nutrient in crop production in many countries including Kenya, and it is commonly boosted using chemical fertilisers such as Di-Ammonium Phosphate, Calcium Ammonium Nitrates or urea,” says Nancy Mungai, Associate Professor of Soil Sciences at Egerton University.
“Use of rhizobia inoculants is therefore an alternative approach to improving nitrogen content in the soil,” she told the Seeds of Gold.
The don explains that rhizobia inoculants are live bacteria cultures that are applied on seeds or roots of young plants to help them make their own nitrogen through nitrogen fixation.
Biofix is a brand of commercial rhizobia inoculants currently manufactured by MEA East Africa in partnership with the University of Nairobi. It is sold across the country through agrochemical dealers.
After successful trials at household level, farmers realised the resilience of soybeans to unfavourable climatic conditions, the importance of using inputs, and their market potential.
As a result, Ben Maniaji, the FIPS Africa coordinator in western and Nyanza regions, reports that some 57,000 households in the area are now cultivating soybeans using Biofix and other necessary farm inputs.
“Through our village-based advisors and agricultural extension service providers from the government, we identified a number of farmers at village level and distributed free kits containing soybean seed, a packet of Biofix, and chemical fertilisers,” said Maniaji.
Each farmer would then set aside a small piece of land (five metres by five metres) for trial at home. “Just as it is done by researchers, we asked the farmers to plant a few lines using seed that has been inoculated with Biofix with basal phosphorous fertilisers, and a control line without any input,” said Maniaji.
This was to help the farmer see the difference in plant health and yield when using inoculated seeds and planting without.
Inoculated seeds yielded twice as much, giving farmers “the appetite to plant more,” said Maniaji.
Thomas Otieno, a smallholder farmer in Siaya county, says after his first trial in 2012, he increased acreage to a quarter-acre last year and harvested 400kg. Now he has about half-an acre under soybeans.
“Most of us sold the beans to a local organisation that makes flour for porridge fed to people living with HIV,” he said.
“It is a fresh crop, with fresh technology, bringing us a fresh opportunity in the wake of climate change,” said Elizabeth Baraza from Sibale village in Bungoma County.
The mother of five, who is growing the inoculated crop for the second time, says ordinary beans have failed to perform well following heavy rains. “But soybeans are more resilient,” she said.
Benta Ekudoi, a mother of four from Edama village in Busia county, says ever since doctors advised her to avoid tea leaves, she has turned to soybean flour to make her beverage, which she says has a pleasant taste.
The farmers also say they have been able to improve soil fertility and have realised good returns after planting maize on land formerly used for growing soybeans.
“I will increase my acreage next season,” said Everline Juma, a mother of seven who has already uprooted sugarcane and is growing soybeans on 1.5 acres in Bungoma.
“The sky is the limit. If I get the market, I will be more than willing to lease more land to grow this new crop using this new technology of Biofix,” she said
Health experts say soybeans are very nutritious as they contain all the three macro-nutrients — protein, carbohydrate and fat — as well as vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and iron.