For many years, the Malawi soya sector has endured stunted growth due to poor performing varieties but thanks to recent research in the value chain, the long wait for more productive varieties is almost over.
According to the Department for Agriculture Research Services (DARS), two new varieties are set for release this year with up to 15 others expected to be made available to farmers from next year.
"We have been conducting research at various sites across the country and we are excited to inform players in the sector that two varieties are ready for release," said Florence Kamwana-Ngwira, a legumes agronomist at Chitedze Research Station.
Ngwira was speaking during a field day at privately-owned Pyxus Agriculture Limited farm in Kasungu recently.
The field day was organised to showcase to farmers, researchers, seed multiplier and processors, how some of the varieties are performing as winter crops.
She said the research, being conducted under the Pan African Seed Trials through two USAID-funded projects - Feed the Future Malawi Ag Diversification Activity (AgDiv) and the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab, has successfully tested on performance, disease resistance and early maturity, among others.
Ngwira said the release of these new varieties should be exciting news for farmers and manufacturera alike.
On one hand, she said, farmers want varieties that produce more while on the other hand, processors want seed with high protein or oil depending on their area of interest.
One of the farmers who attended the open day, Lorias Matonga, said the new varieties have come at the right time when she is wading away from tobacco to soya as an alternative crop.
Matonga, who has grown tobacco for many years but switched to soy last year due to poor retains at the auction floors, said the future of tobacco is no longer promising and her hope is on new crops such as soya.
"We have observed varieties that are fast maturing and produce more. If we start growing them surely Malawi shall be one of high soy producing country," said Matonga.
AgDiv Deputy Chief of Party, Dr. Elizabeth Sibale said the trials, which started in 2017 and have been done in four phases, are critical in the soy value chain as they bring out the best seed the industry needs.
"This is a huge milestone for the sector. We are happy that farmers can soon begin to earn more from their soy," said Sibale.
Managing Director for Pyxus Agriculture Limited, Ronald Ngwira, who is moving into soy production in the country, said the trials will unlock potential for local farmers to access varieties that will give them quality soy.
At least 36 soy varieties from five African countries - Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have undergone trials at various government and private sites of Chitedze in Lilongwe, Chitala in Salima, Bvumbwe in Thyolo and Baka in Karonga.
According to the researchers, the winter trials tested 40 soybean lines, including 29 originating from six countries in Africa and 11 from the United States: four lines from Zimbabwe (SeedCo), six lines from Malawi (DARS), eight lines from Zambia (IITA, ZamSeed), four lines from Uganda (Makerere University), two
lines from Ethiopia (EIAR), five lines from Kenya (KALRO, and 11 lines from the USA (University of Illinois and University of Missouri).
"The varieties Tikolore and Makwacha, the main commercial varieties in Malawi, had the 12th and 19th highest yields across environments showing that eleven lines performed better than the top-performing local commercial lines.
These findings show that there are varieties that can outperform local checks across all trial sites," reads a report from Pan African Soybean Variety Trials.
The USAID-funded Feed the Future Malawi Diversification Activity is implemented by Palladium.