History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in New Third World Tropical and Semi-Tropical Countries, Latin America, Indian Subcontinent, Africa, and the Middle East


A Special Report on The History of Soybeans and Soyfoods Around the World

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

Copyright 2007 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

In the following chapters we will discuss the history of soybeans and soyfoods in countries to which they are a relatively recent introduction. While traditionally outside the mainstream of interest and activity, a number of these "new" Third World countries are becoming major producers of soybeans and users of soyfoods.

History and Potential in "New" Third World Countries. In most of these areas soybeans and soyfoods were introduced during the 1800s or early 1900s. In India, although soybeans may have trickled in from China as long as 800 years ago and soy sauce from Japan was imported as early as 1717, the earliest known reference to soybeans was in 1832. In Latin America the earliest known reference was in 1882, in Africa in 1905, and in the Middle East in 1939.

Active interest in soybeans and soyfoods in these "new" Third World countries began to increase markedly during the 1960s as the "protein gap" theory (see Chapter 7) came to be widely accepted; it maintained that the key nutrient in shortest supply was protein. If enough protein could be supplied, the core of the problem of malnutrition would be solved. Soybeans were increasingly widely recognized as an outstanding source of low-cost, high-quality protein, however they did not grow well in tropical and semitropical regions. Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s pioneering work done by soybean breeders and geneticists and by INTSOY (see Chapter 42) led to the development and propagation of high-yielding varieties of soybeans in tropical and semitropical Third World countries. INTSOY'S integrated programs of soybean production, marketing, and utilization led to major advances. The high price of soybeans from 1972 and much overseas market development work by the American Soybean Association, including a number of well attended international soybean conferences, were also potent factors in stimulating active interest.

Very little research has yet been done on the history (especially the early history) of soybeans and soyfoods in Third World countries. We would like to take this opportunity to encourage much more research and publication in this area, especially by citizens of each country who speak the language. No doubt, digging back into early records will uncover some interesting documents and stories, and push the dates of introduction much farther back. A section on "Historical Background" at the beginning of conference papers and journal articles often greatly enhances their value, and should be encouraged by conference planners.

As is well known, most Third World countries are faced by a constant struggle to provide enough food for their rapidly expanding populations. Among the lower income sectors in most of these countries there is serious protein-calorie malnutrition. According to the FAO Fourth World Food Survey in 1977 (Ref??), 455 million people comprising 25% of the people in Less Developed Countries had food intake below the "critical minimum limit." In 1983 74% of the people in the world lived in these countries. Soybeans can play a vital role here. They are the least expensive source of protein and oil, provide more protein from a given area of land than any other farm crop, rich in high-quality protein, can be used to make a remarkable array of highly versatile soyfoods suited to various national cuisines, are well suited to processing in middle-level or small-scale cottage industries, can now be grown in most countries of the world, and fix free nitrogen fertilizer in the soil. At a time when the acreage from "Green Revolution" cereal grain crops has expanded rapidly, in many cases replacing high-protein legumes, they provide a practical and economical way of rectifying this balance.

Basic Approaches to Introducing Soybeans and Soyfoods. In this section we will discuss seven approaches that have been used successfully to introduce soybeans and soyfoods to "new" Third World countries. It is important to note that introducing soybeans is not like introducing rice, wheat, or other legumes. It is imperative that any program of introduction have a strong utilization component, in which people are trained in the preparation of soyfoods, ideally on commercial, village, and home levels. There is no country in the world that has used soyfoods traditionally that also uses whole dry soybeans extensively. Unfortunately, they require a great deal of time (4-6 hours, unless cooked with baking soda) and fuel for cooking, they cause flatulence when consumed, and their flavor is often found to be disagreeable or at least not particularly inviting. Even where attempts have been made to introduce them (cooked with baking soda in India or cooked with black beans in Brazil), some training in preparation techniques is required.

Since each of the world's nations is unique, in planning approaches for the introduction of soybeans and soyfoods, we should study a variety of a models and useful lessons, but should beware of unconsidered imitation.

1. The Traditional Decentralized Diffusion Approach. It is interesting to reflect briefly on how soybeans and soyfoods were introduced from China to "new" Asian countries several thousand years ago. In Japan, for example, soybeans were introduced by Buddhist monks. Initially they were probably grown near temples and monasteries. Buddhist vegetarian restaurants were established nearby and there the monks served soyfoods such as tofu, miso, shoyu (soy sauce), and fresh green soybeans (prepared in the temple or restaurant) to the local people. Liking these foods, the people got soybeans from the monks and learned from them how to make the foods. Then they grew the soybeans and prepared the foods at home. Eventually, largely for convenience sake, a communally run village tofu shop and shoyu plant were established. The tofu shop was often run by a widow in need of income and the shoyu plant by a family with the means to afford the large building and equipment required. The farmers would bring in their soybeans, pay a small processing fee, and return later to pick up their tofu or shoyu. They made miso at home. Eventually the communal shops became commercial ones, buying soybeans from the farmers and selling back soyfoods. Note that all the activity was decentralized and that the initial spark came from a small group (in this case monks) long trained in the crafts of growing soybeans and making soyfoods, which they happily shared.

A similar pattern unfolded in Korea, except that soy sauce has continued to be made in private homes up until the present. Little is known of how soybeans and soyfoods were introduced to Indonesia, where Buddhism was only of temporary importance, in about the eighth century. The soybeans may have been introduced by Chinese immigrants; in some way tempeh was developed and became the most popular soyfood, followed by tofu, miso ( taucho ), and soy sauce ( kechap ).

2. The National Integrated Approach. The best and perhaps the only example of this approach is found in Sri Lanka. The basic components of the program (as described in detail in Chapter 51) are multi-source international funding, strong national commitment to the success of the program, use of expert production and utilization consultants, development of a workable integrated plan for introduction, establishment of a production and utilization training center and pilot plant, careful training and inspiring of local teachers and extension workers, and publication of a nationwide newsletter to communicate the program to anyone interested.

First, extensive field research was done by local agronomists and outside experts to find high yielding soybeans varieties and suitable Rhizobium inocula, and to develop a "package of practices" that would give high yields. Extension workers were carefully trained and a floor price was established by the government to reduce farmers' risk.

For soybean production to be able to expand, an expanding market had to be developed. This involved the development of soyfoods applications suited to that particular country and the training of soyfoods teachers and extension workers. In both cases, outside soyfoods "experts" usually provided the initial "spark," teaching food processing techniques (on commercial, village, and home levels), nutrition, recipe applications, and other basics, and hopefully communicating their enthusiasm and dedication to their students. Local students then began to apply what they had learned to their own country situation, developing recipes and simpler processing techniques, writing cookbooks, and the like. Next other interested people were invited to attend a variety of courses held at a center, and attendees from villages or food groups were encouraged/inspired to return there and teach others. Emphasis was placed on in-depth, hands-on, practical person-to-person training that would help to solve real-life problems such as how to feed one's family better for less or how to create new occupation. Courses and outreach programs were also given for commercial food processors (such as bakers) and people in charge of institutional feeding programs (as at schools, hospitals, or prisons) to show them how soyfoods might help them solve their problems, such as producing more nutritious foods or lowering costs while improving quality.

To upgrade their skills, production and utilization extension workers would occasionally attend advanced courses in their field, such as the short course soyfoods processing sponsored by INTSOY at the University of Illinois, or the course in inoculum at the NIFTAL Center in Hawaii.

3. Single Enterprise Integrated Approach. Successful examples of this approach are SPRA in India, Africa Basic Foods in Uganda, and CARE in Costa Rica. The single enterprise initiating the program may be either a private company or an international agency working with the government. Someone from that organization, perhaps working with government soybean production extension workers, teaches local farmers how to grow soybeans; the organization then contracts to buy all the soybeans grown at a specified price. The soybeans are made into food and a program of education and/or advertising is developed to teach the public about the benefits of the food. Some of the food may be used by the government in school or infant feeding programs.

4. The Communal Village Integrated Approach. A good example of this approach is the work done by PLENTY in Guatemala. Farmers in a village or community were taught how to grow soybeans, in this case using seeds developed by INTSOY. The villagers worked together, with the help of PLENTY volunteers and both village and outside funds, to establish a community soyfoods plant, in this case a soy dairy making soymilk, tofu, and soymilk ice cream. The people were also taught home soyfoods preparation. The farmers took their soybeans to the soy dairy and to their homes and in return received tasty and nutritious soyfoods for their families.

5. Free Market Plus Government Support Approach. Good examples are found in Brazil and Egypt. A strong international or national demand for

soybeans interests farmers in growing them. Government extension workers, often with help from outside (Japan helped Brazil and INTSOY helped Egypt), aid farmers in expanding production. The soybeans may be exported to be sold to local oil mills, where they are crushed for oil and meal. The government often also provides support in the form of infrastructure development, policy support, and research on utilization. Private businesses are encouraged to use defatted soy meal in various foods.

6. The Broad-Based Soyfoods Movement Approach. Good examples of this approach, usually pioneered by one person with an almost "missionary" spirit, are found in Mexico (Blanca Dominguez, Ejo Takata roshi, Dr. Nuren Banfunzi) and in the US (the soyfoods movement; see Chapter 51). One person, inspired by his or her realization of the potential of soybeans and soyfoods to help the people, begins teaching others, initially alone and without outside funding. He or she may start a small center or school, or travel to various centers, villages, schools, universities, etc. By writing books and articles and making creative use of the electronic media, the person may be able to communicate with millions of other people. Homemakers and institutions are taught simple soyfoods preparation, tasty recipes, and ways of using soyfoods to provide more nutrition at less cost. Typically, others were soon inspired by the message, and they too began teaching and writing about soyfoods, or they started businesses making soyfoods. In this way regional or nationwide movements developed from the bottom up, with little or no outside or government support. Many people understood the message and became actively involved. In some cases the movement showed a strong interest in ameliorating world hunger and in not killing animals. A smaller form of this concept is the "individual soyfoods missionary" approach; example, Richard Jennings in Ecuador. The person starts a soyfoods business and works to introduce soyfoods to the local people.

7. The Foreign Soybean Growers' Association Approach. The best example of this is the work done by the American Soybean Association in Mexico and Latin America. The purpose of the work is to increase imports of soybeans by the country or region involved. Hence no effort is made to promote local soybean production. Much work is done, however, to promote utilization, especially in the form of soy oil for human use and soybean meal for livestock, but also in the form of soy flour, textured soy flour, soymilk, etc. Extensive product development and educational work is done with government and private industry. Conferences are held, booklets are published, and trade delegations are sent to the US to study relevant applications. All of this also inevitably stimulates soybean production in the host country.

In studying these various approaches, it appears that soybeans and soyfoods have caught on most rapidly in countries where there was a vital, broad based, people-centered program working from the bottom up in conjunction with a well-coordinated program sponsored by state and national governments, private industry, and international organizations working from the top down. The "top down only" program that tries to get people to accept products which are "good for them" but which they don't really understand or like is often doomed to failure. It is most successful when used on children.

Soyfoods Applications. It is interesting to note that the most popular soyfoods in traditional soyfoods countries (East Asia) are very different from those that are most popular in "new" Third World countries. Traditionally tofu, miso, soy sauce, tempeh (in Indonesia), soymilk, and fresh green soybeans were the most widely used soyfoods. In "new" Third World countries soybeans have been used as foods in either of four general ways: (1) as soy oil; (2) as soy flour (either defatted or whole/full-fat) used to fortify and extend cereal grains, increasing the quantity and quality of their protein through protein complementarity, as in special cereal-soy blends, breads, tortillas, chapatis, and the like; (3) as textured soy flour (TSP or TVP) used to extend ground meat or as soymilk used to extend dairy milk, in each case to lower the cost of expensive animal products; and (4) as foods in their own right such as soymilk, tofu, fresh green soybeans, or tempeh. Although not yet widely developed, these foods have been very well received wherever they have been properly introduced, as in Sri Lanka and Mexico.

Control of Soyfoods Production. One of the key questions for "new" Third World countries is "Who will control soyfoods production?" In traditional countries, of course, control was decentralized, first in villages and then in towns and cities. In most Third World countries large centralized production has been the rule. This has been quite successful where the production has been by a soybean crushing plant, producing soy oil and meal. The large plant stimulates soybean production, produces a low-cost oil which in many countries reduces oil imports, and produces a meal which can be used to make soy flour or animal feed, especially for chickens. Given the limited demand for soy flour for food uses, the livestock market for soybean meal probably helped reduce the price of soybeans and soy flour by stimulating production. The combination of middle-sized soyfoods plants (generally making whole soy flour or textured soy flour using low-cost extrusion cookers, or making soymilk) with government feeding programs have also been quite successful. Some middle sized private plants have also been successful, but introducing the product and reaching low-income groups has been an ongoing struggle, in part because of lack of a broad-based educational campaign, and in part because the poor simply could not afford these products.

Mohandas Gandhi observed in the 1930s, during his nationwide campaign for village uplift and self-sufficiency, that "The poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses." (Ref??) It is important to note that there are 2 million villages in the world and roughly 70% of the people in Third World countries in tropical areas live in villages. Village level soyfoods production, so popular throughout East Asia, has been largely neglected in the "new" Third World countries. Yet we feel that the greatest potential for introducing both soybeans and soyfoods to large numbers of people in these "new" countries lies in the development of integrated village programs of soybean growing and processing, with processing technology based on both traditional and modern techniques centered in family-owned village cottage industries. Villagers would attend training programs at regional centers such as already exist in Sri Lanka, then obtain loans to buy simple equipment, and return to their villages. Farmers would grow soybeans and others would do local processing, letting output grow with demand.

We see an especially great need to establish series Soyfoods Training Centers. The first four might, for example, be located in India, China, Indonesia, and Thailand. Each center would conduct a variety of courses, ranging from 2-3-day home level courses to 1-month commercial courses. In some cases, experts could be brought in to conduct special training, and students could be invited from countries in the region. The goal of each center would be to educate the people on preparation and production of soyfoods, leading to more jobs and better nutrition at lower cost in that country.

Cooperation in establishing and funding such programs and training centers between, for example, INTSOY, the government of Japan, USAID, and UNIDO might be most fruitful. It is indeed surprising that Japan has not yet begun an active program of Third World soybean and soyfood development as part of her foreign aid program, given that Japan has centuries of experience in this very field and is showing increasing interest in doing more to aid Third World countries. An INTSOY/Japan soyfoods joint venture might well have a major world impact.