U.S. Soybeans Support Sustainability in Afghanistan

Minnesota soybean farmers recently gathered at a local seed house to witness final preparations for a shipment of U.S. soybean seeds about to make a 7,000-mile journey to Afghanistan. The shipment is part of the Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) Food for Progress Program and will provide subsistence farmers in Afghanistan with 68.5 metric tons of early maturing soybean seeds to plant.

The seeds support the Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan (SARAI) project, which is managed by the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) and Minnesota-based Shelter for Life International. The organizations will distribute the seeds – more than 2,500 bushels comprised of about 467 million seeds – to the subsistence farmers, including approximately 500 women.

“Most of these (Afghan) farmers have less than two acres of land. They will plant their seeds with their finger or a stick following their wheat harvest this spring,” said Minnesota soybean grower Barb Overlie, who has served on the WISHH program committee. “WISHH’s USDA project has started a soybean value chain that includes farmers as well as a new processing plant that uses Afghan and U.S. soybeans.”

Bags of the soybean seeds were placed onto shipping pallets at the Albert Lea Seed House in Albert Lea, Minn., and then transported to Joint Base Charleston, S.C., where they then flew via a U.S. Air Force cargo plane to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The seed variety delivered, called Sheyenne, was selected because it is suited for the tough, mountainous environment of Afghanistan and because it matures in 90-100 days.

The soybean seeds will help sustain Afghanistan’s first commercial soybean value chain, which WISHH and its partners are working to establish through their project funded under Food for Progress. Afghan farmers who receive the seeds agree to sell their soybeans to a processing facility that was established through the three-year SARAI project. The facility uses both Afghan and U.S. soybeans to ensure adequate supplies for its customers.

Oilseed crops are vital to Afghanistan’s economy for feeding the population and for the production of animal feed. In addition to generating income for the farmers, the soybeans are priming the growth of oilseed production in the country. Currently, Afghanistan imports more than 90 percent of its cooking oil, mostly palm oil. The Afghan poultry and livestock industries are also looking to expand use of quality meal from oilseed crops such as soybeans.

The SARAI project is just one of the more than 100 active Food for Progress projects underway in developing countries worldwide. 

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