Soy and Food Security

Soy and Food Security

In this article, we look at the definition of Food Insecurity vs Food Security, and how Soybean-based protein foods are a perfect example of a food-based strategy to relieve hunger and malnutrition.


This is the inability to access and procure, through conventional avenues, nutritionally adequate foods capable of supporting an active and healthy life.

Food insecurity is the presence of hunger, starvation, malnutrition and /or fear of facing food shortages.

Food insecurity, which leads to insufficient dietary intakes, is one of the three main underlying causes of malnutrition, which in turn compromises health and the quality of life of individuals, households and nations.

Protein Malnutrition

Malnutrition, particularly protein deficiency, is prevalent in many parts of Africa. One of the contributing factors is the very high cost of conventional protein sources coupled with the low purchasing power of these vulnerable populations. Quality of protein intake is known to be very poor in these communities.

Protein-energy-malnutrition affects up to 70% of infants and preschool children in the developing countries of Africa, the Middle East, south-eastern Asia and central and South America. Millions die annually and millions more will go through life stunted in their physical growth and unable to reach their potential mental development.

In developing countries babies are usually breast fed for +/- 18 months. Upon the birth of another child, the older child is deposed from the breast and subsists largely on a high (refined) carbohydrate low protein diet provided for by the staple foods of the country. The symptoms become apparent about 3-4 months after the child has been weaned and have their highest incidence between 2-5 years of age. Typical weaning staple foods are cassava, plantain, millet and maize in Africa; corn and beans in South America; and rice and some legumes in Asia. These foods do not provide sufficient amino acids for the rapid growth needs of the infant. The ignorance of the mother concerning food needs of the baby may further reduce the intake of protein. Typical forms of Protein energy malnutrition include kwashiorkor and marasmus. There is definitely a synergism between malnutrition and infection. When a diet is nutritionally inadequate, and there is poor sanitation and the living conditions are not good, infections that are usually mild in a well-nourished infant, become so severe in the malnourished infant that the resulting death rate is high.

Symptoms of malnutrition include moderate to severe failure of growth, severe oedema resulting in a large pot belly and swollen legs and face coupled with muscle wasting, the skin becomes dry and flaky, anorexia, diarrhoea, and all of these cause a striking profound apathy and general misery in the child.

Treatment with correct diet, specifically adequate amounts of good quality protein, results in a marked improvement in growth and an incredible improvement in prognosis.


Yet – PREVENTION is better than CURE!

SOY: A Solution to Address Food Insecurity

Good food is the basis of health; subsequent nutritional status influences human health and well-being. Nutrition is a major, modifiable, powerful factor in health promotion, preventing and treating disease and in improving quality of life.

One of the best strategies that can be employed to address food insecurity is the provision of affordable, nutrient dense, culturally acceptable foods that are safe for human consumption.

Soybean-based protein foods are a perfect example of a food-based strategy to relieve hunger and malnutrition and to provide dietary diversification in low-income communities.


Extrusion is an ideal processing method for the manufacturing of a wide range of affordable foods with a long shelf life. Furthermore, the beneficial nutritional effects of extruded foods range from increased protein and starch digestibility to retention of various micronutrients. This results in nutrient-dense meals being consumed. A perfect example of such a food is the soybean. Soybeans have vast nutritional benefits, and are rich in many essential nutrients, not least off all PROTEIN. Extruded foods, such as soybeans, benefit food and nutrition insecurity by being available, and easily accessible to poorer disadvantaged communities.


Protein quality is determined by the amino acid profile of the source of protein. A COMPLETE PROTEIN / HIGH-BIOLOGICAL-VALUE PROTEINS contain enough of the ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS to maintain body tissues and to promote a normal rate of growth. Examples of high-biological value proteins include EGGS, COW’S MILK, MEAT, POULTRY and FISH. Many legumes / beans provide some protein but are not of high biological value. However, SOYBEANS are the only available bean/legume that provides HIGH QUALITY PROTEINS comparable to meat, poultry and eggs, and most importantly is inexpensive.

At a cost that would be affordable to low-income populations such as in many African countries, soybeans could be included in household diets and processed at the commercial level as well, thereby contributing enormously to efforts to reduce malnutrition.

Issues to consider

The use of biotechnology is the use of living organisms to produce products to benefit humankind. Genetic modification (GM) is based on molecular genetics and involves inserting or altering genes to improve, down-scale or silence gene functions with precision, as happens in nature. It achieves what conventional technologies cannot do but needs conventional breeding to bring the technology to the farm. THE SA GMO Act strictly controls all aspects of GM research and application. Scares about adverse impact on humans, animals, farmers and the environment have not materialized. Instead, opposition to GM crops has degenerated into technical trade barriers.

Soybeans and their derivatives are found in a multitude of food, feed and industrial products. Globally the 84 million hectares planted with GM soybeans represents 48% of total soybean area. In SA it is 90%. GM soybeans have driven the adoption of no-till farming, reduced the use of pesticides and enabled crop resistance to fungi and insects.

With the growing realization of the need to promote oil and protein seed crops, the world over, but especially in Africa where some 40% of children suffer from stunting due to diets deficient in protein, the soybean offers opportunities to address this.

Introducing SOYBEANS into poorer communities, unused to this bean

Ways of introducing soybeans into populations, unfamiliar with soya, could be to provide SOY MILK into school feeding schemes (already successfully done in a study conducted in Ghana in 2015).  Another way of introducing soybeans, is to teach communities, particularly the women (as they are the ones involved with food preparation), how to incorporate SOYBEAN FLOUR together with locally available ingredients, into recipes.

Other strategies to introduce soy may also include effective school feeding programmes, inclusion of soy protein into diets, and most importantly, training in the full utilization of soy foods/products.

Soya Life Porridge and Premium Porridge offers a very effective, and cost-effective way of introducing SOY into diets, and can be successfully incorporated into school feeding programmes, and other feeding schemes. It is of very acceptable taste, and has a long shelf life, and as such is easy to introduce into daily diets.

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