The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) invests heavily to evolve emerging markets for U.S. soybeans and soy products. Emerging markets are identified by factors like growing populations, improving economic conditions and efforts addressing protein deficiency.

One region of emerging markets is Sub-Saharan Africa, the area south of the Sahara Desert, which consists of more than 50 countries. The region demonstrates factors that identify it as a valuable potential soy market.

  • Growing population: Its population exceeds 1 billion – and it’s expected to double by 2050, making Sub-Saharan Africa one of the most substantial frontier markets in the world.
  • Improving economic conditions: Since 2000, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates between 2% and 6.5% with just one exception, according to World Bank data.1 While 2020 is expected to show very little or negative growth due to the global coronavirus pandemic, projections for recovery and continued growth in this region are positive.
  • Addressing protein deficiency: Awareness, knowledge and investment to combat protein deficiency in diets throughout Sub-Saharan Africa has been growing. For example, the African Development Bank Group works to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in African countries. Their Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan 2018-2025 includes increasing livestock ownership to fill dietary gaps as a specific agriculture intervention to impact on nutrition. In this plan, milk, eggs and fish are all called out as low-cost sources of high-quality protein.2 Soybeans can play a key role in producing all those protein sources.

As USSEC’s regional director for South Asia & Sub-Saharan Africa, my focus is on building relationships within these regions to develop U.S. soy demand and preference. And, I experience first-hand how soy markets for U.S. Soy are emerging.

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently the sixth-largest destination of U.S. feed and grain exports. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), soybean and soybean meal feed use in the region are projected to increase by 59% and 35%, respectively, through 2029.3 This represents an opportunity for U.S. Soy.

The vast region is part of our long-term strategy to build a strong pipeline of demand for U.S. soy. USSEC is beginning work in a few of these countries, with goals to expand over time. So, we are investing in education, training, and development for a soy supply chain. We are reducing and removing trade barriers for existing and potential customers. And, we are creating long-term relationships that will support the success of partners who need the high-quality soybeans and soy products U.S. farmers can supply.

How does this type of opportunity develop into actual product demand and a corresponding supply chain?

Building on strong soy market foundations

The World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) plays a critical role in the U.S. soy industry’s market continuum. WISHH and USSEC work together to pave complementary trade routes to grow markets for U.S. Soy. WISHH focuses on market building, addressing long-term demand, creating customers and markets for U.S. Soy, before transitioning markets to USSEC, who maximizes the use of U.S. Soy and concentrates on market development.

“USSEC continues existing efforts in emerging markets, building on WISHH’s work,” explains Jim Sutter, USSEC CEO. “We differentiate and build a preference for U.S. soy, while ensuring market access.”

WISHH began laying foundations for soy market development in Sub-Saharan Africa when it was founded in 2000. It is serving as a soybean industry incubator for entrepreneurs in these markets, guiding and fostering business development. As a catalyst for trade, WISHH identifies potential customers, assesses the entire market system, and often creates awareness about the value of adding protein to human or livestock diets.

“WISHH starts at the ground level of key industries in promising markets and works to shape market dynamics,” says executive director Liz Hare. “We position U.S. Soy as a future partner by making what are often the very first introductions a potential customer will have to U.S. soy and its benefits. Upon that foundation, WISHH can support supply chain partners, their customers and other influencers with technical training and more so they can succeed in adding soy to their feeds or foods.”

For example, Yedent Agro Group of Companies, Ltd., a food and feed company in Ghana, began working with WISHH in 2016.

CEO Samuel Kwame Ntim-Adu shares how WISHH has been helping his company and highlights opportunities for trade between Ghana and the U.S.

Yedent also participated in a WISHH-led USDA poultry project in Ghana that has delivered research-based demonstrations proving the value of soy as a feed source to poultry farmers and other best management practices. Coupled with a national campaign promoting the health benefits of eggs, both prices and consumption have increased, benefitting farmers and Ghanaian consumers. Egg consumption in Ghana has climbed from 172 to 235 eggs per capita from 2016 to 2020, and every increase of 10 more eggs per person per year equates to an estimated 8,850-MT (325,000-bushel) increase in local soybean meal demand.

Tilapia feeding trials in Nigeria conducted by WISHH using USDA Emerging Markets Program funding demonstrated the importance of soy in aquaculture feed formulations.
Photo credit: WISHH

Soy can also play a valuable role in aquaculture, a key industry to develop in Africa according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report. WISHH implemented aquaculture training or other activities in eight African countries in 2020 and laid the foundation for more in 2021. A sponsored webinar featured aquafeed experts during the fall. In Tanzania, WISHH allowed leaders of Aqua-Farms Organization to participate in Texas A&M University’s virtual “Aquaculture Feed Extrusion, Nutrition & Feed Management” short course. That training is speeding the establishment of Tanzania’s first industrial-scale aquaculture production, with expectations of using soy-based feeds. And in Nigeria, WISHH used USDA Emerging Markets Program funding to conduct feeding trials for tilapia that demonstrated the importance of soy in feed formulations to farmers.

“WISHH puts these customers at the front end of a long learning curve, with U.S. soy built into their business models,” Hare continues. “We make connections between buyers and suppliers to connect trade and development, and then assist in how they can do business together to deliver more affordable and accessible protein to their populations.”

As supply chains become more established and soy imports grow, USSEC becomes more involved.

Practical support for emerging soy markets

What does that look like in Sub-Saharan Africa?

The answers to that question comprises the bulk of my responsibilities for USSEC in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our investments in education, training, addressing trade barriers and long-term relationships are just starting to pay off.

USSEC market development work in Sub-Saharan Africa began in earnest with a due diligence mission and networking seminar in Nigeria in May 2019. We connected with about 55 people, including soy crushers, feed millers, poultry and fish producers, association leaders and importers. The USSEC team held more than 30 one-on-one meetings with nearly the entire value chain and key government representatives.

Then in November 2019, USSEC participated in the West African Agribusiness Trade Mission in Ghana, organized by USDA. Meeting with importers from throughout the region allowed USSEC to showcase the quality, consistency and reliability of U.S. soy.

A next step in the region has been establishing a Soy Excellence Center in Nigeria. Similar to the first Soy Excellence Center in Egypt, the center will be a technical and policy pillar to advance the region’s soy supply chain. It will also become a one-stop-shop for industry training, resources and education to all members of the soy value chain.

A strategic location for the region, Nigeria holds potential for a growing soy market, has an established wheat import value chain and is growing poultry imports. It also offers access to much of Western Africa. Farmers, animal protein integrators, feed millers, animal nutritionists and local academic resources will benefit from learning about the value of soy in animal feed, aquaculture and human consumption. Training and events will allow stakeholders to directly experience best management practices in a real-world setting relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa. Already, the inaugural training session under the agronomy track was over-subscribed and highly impactful. Future trainings will include development for poultry, aquaculture, crush facilities and feed mills. The Soy Excellence Center will also build and facilitate local and international business relationships.

Part of education for the region includes building awareness of the cost of protein deficiency, a major cause of malnutrition that also creates economic and social burdens. For example, the Protein Challenge Campaign in Nigeria is developing broad awareness of the country’s protein deficiency situation and positioning soybeans as the most cost-effective protein source for both human and animal nutrition. The effort included a baseline survey to understand current protein deficiency, education through a bimonthly newsletter, online engagement and media coverage. The goal is to create demand pull for soy to improve protein availability and health. So far, a clear positive correlation is emerging between message exposure and increased protein consumption.

To educate, train and develop the supply chain, USSEC, WISHH and the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) co-hosted the African Trade Exchange in November 2020, a virtual conference intended to strengthen trade with the African continent, including countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Speakers and panelists discussed the international grain trade, the future of the African feed industry and long-term commercial trade development. The event allowed Sub-Saharan African soy customers to connect, learn from each other and facilitate trade opportunities, while also discovering more about navigating the international soy and feed grain supply chain.

USSEC offers practical support by addressing barriers to trade with the U.S. Lack of credit and under-use of credit programs have been long-standing constraints on sales of U.S. soy products to Africa. Last fall we brought together key stakeholders to address this issue head-on. Banks, supply chain executives and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) administrators participated in a virtual roundtable to discuss barriers to the use of USDA credit guaranteed programs. And an Africa Trade Exchange session on credit guarantee programs provided additional information for potential soybean customers.

These efforts and others provide early support for the Sub-Saharan Africa soybean market to develop and grow. U.S. farmers are well-positioned to meet these growing needs. But how do we help customers understand how U.S. soybean farmers deliver a reliable supply of consistent, high-quality soy products?

Dare to Compare: Proving the value of U.S. soy

As relationships develop through these market development activities, processors and feed millers have told us that they inform all importers of their preference for U.S. soy. They cite its qualities, consistency and the goodwill and friendship we’ve developed through our efforts to support market development.

For example, we’ve built a relationship with Agboola Farms, an industry and thought leader in Nigeria. USSEC has helped the company access credit guarantees, technical information, marketing support and trade servicing.


Tola Johnson, Agboola Farms, Nigeria, attended the U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange in Chicago in August of 2019 and explained how USSEC support helped them understand the value of U.S. soy.

“The distinctiveness of U.S. soy is the digestibility of its protein, the consistency in it’s quality, and it’s availability,” said Tola Johnson, Agboola Farms, at a USSEC industry event. “If you are talking quality product, then U.S. soy is it…we’re looking forward to more work to be done in alliance to expand the markets.”

Beyond these relationships, USSEC is sharing facts about the advantages of U.S. soy through its Dare to Compare campaign. This global effort highlights research that shows the value of the nutritional profile, sustainability and refining characteristics of soy produced in the U.S.

“The world is becoming more data-driven, more fact-based and more high-tech,” says Sutter. “We believe soy buyers need that type of information. We are highlighting intrinsic factors such as the nutritional bundle, the average bean moisture and the oil value to a refiner, as well as extrinsic factors such as the sustainability and the reliability of our export supply chain. This information will allow customers to properly evaluate their choices as they purchase soy to crush, feed livestock and fish, or make soyfoods.”

For example, our Dare to Compare focus on soybean nutrition delves into the science behind protein quality and economic value of U.S. soybean meal compared to other origins. It highlights a comprehensive study of soybean meal composition and nutritive value, comparing essential amino acid content and other components of soybean meal as a livestock and fish feed ingredient.

From this work, customers in Sub-Saharan Africa’s rapidly growing poultry and aquaculture industries can understand the details that deliver value in soybean meal. This work includes a software tool called the Nutrient Value Calculator that can analyze and quantify the value of U.S. soybean meal compared to other origins.

As the soybean crush industry develops in Sub-Saharan African markets, Dare to Compare will provide data about the value of soybean oil to refiners for use in cooking and more.

Sustainability will be a critical factor for Sub-Saharan Africa as soybean value chains develop. Our Dare to Compare focus on sustainability describes how the U.S. soy industry integrates sustainable practices into every stage of soy production. U.S. soybean farmers have been practicing sustainability for decades, and they continue to improve over time. Their commitment to doing more with less benefits customers in Sub-Saharan Africa, where emerging markets focus on long-term sustainability. We can help customers meet their goals for sustainable development.

In fact, U.S. Soy has mapped its efforts to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which play a key role in many development efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our research identified that we can contribute the most to Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Soy plays an integral role in supplying high-quality protein for diets, and soy production implements resilient agricultural practices highlighted in the targets that goal.

Soy benefits emerging markets

When I take a step back, I can see how all these market development activities in Sub-Saharan Africa create a win-win-win for the 1 billion-plus people of the region, soy supply chain partners and U.S. soybean farmers.

  • Consumers: As a high-quality protein source, soy makes a significant difference in emerging economies. It increases availability, affordability and quality of protein in the form of eggs, poultry and fish for consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa. And that improves health and quality of life.
  • Supply chain: The region’s growing soy value chain is creating jobs and economic opportunities as food companies, crushers, feed millers, livestock and aquaculture producers, importers and transportation companies deliver that soy to their customers. Every link in the supply chain adds value to local economies.
  • S. soybean farmers: Farmers in the U.S. are willing and able to produce and deliver a consistent, reliable, high-quality supply of soy to Sub-Saharan Africa. Growing markets encourage continuous improvement on the farm and throughout the U.S. side of the supply chain.

The work U.S. Soy has done so far in Sub-Saharan Africa is exciting. USSEC’s ongoing plans to continue supporting market development have me very optimistic about our collective ability to realize the full potential of soy for this region.

Focus: Nigeria Exemplifies Soy Opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria is the largest U.S. feed and grain export destination within Sub-Saharan Africa, clearly a an emerging market for soy. That’s one reason USSEC has recently invested to significantly improve Nigeria’s soy value chain. These efforts can open doors for U.S. soy imports to help fill present and anticipated gaps between domestic production and demand.

When I talked with John Coumantaros, chairman of the board of directors for Flower Mills of Nigeria Plc., he described keys to the success of the Nigeria’s growth. He also described its emerging global market.

60 years ago, Nigeria’s population was only 35 million. “Today it’s over 200 million,” Coumantaros says. “It’s growing at 2.5% (5 million people) per year, and for 60% of the population, the median age is 18. Therein lies the great opportunity and the great challenge.”

That growth leads to an increasing need for protein, and Nigeria lags behind even the rest of Africa in protein consumption. Coumantaros said annual per capita protein consumption is just 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds) of chicken, 65 eggs, 5.9 kg (13 pounds) of meat and 13.3 kg (29.3 pounds) of fish.4 In 2016, USSEC research showed Nigerians consumed just 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of soy and soy-related products per person per year, compared to the global average of 55 kg (121.3 pounds) per capita in similar markets.

WISHH programs in Nigeria support increasing soy consumption. For example, WISHH training and product samples allowed a supply chain partner to introduce textured soy protein into the country. Today the company uses U.S. soy for snack foods and meat extenders. The company also sells U.S. defatted soy flour to bakers.

And that’s not the only role for high-quality soy protein in Nigeria. In response to demand and improving economics, the Nigerian poultry and aquaculture sectors have been growing on average by 50% per year in the past five years. To support that growth, USSEC facilitated the participation of Nigerian poultry leaders in the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE).

However, domestic soybean product has averaged less than 3% growth per year. While accurate data is still difficult to get, USSEC estimates that Nigeria produces between 600,000 MT (22 million bushels) and 700,000 MT (25.7 million bushels) of soybeans each year. The country crushes about 1 million MT (36.7 million bushels) of soybeans annually. Our market study reveals that soybeans to fill that gap enter the country unofficially, and likely originate in South America.

Nigeria’s poultry sector imported between 31,000 MT (34,000 U.S. tons) and 50,000 MT (55,000 U.S. tons) of soybean meal through official channels in the 2018-19 marketing year. Poultry producers and crush facilities need raw material security to grow as needed to meet the county’s need, and U.S. soybean farmers are prepared to meet that demand.

1 GDP Growth (annual %) – Sub-Saharan Africa, World Bank Database. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

2 Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Action Plan 2018-2025, African Development Group, Nov. 2018.

3 Opportunities for U.S. Soy in Sub-Saharan Africa Livestock Feed, U.S. Soybean Export Council, Nov. 10, 2020.

4 5 Keys to the Success of Nigeria’s Growth, U.S. Soybean Export Council, Dec. 1, 2020.