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Let Your Soy Grow Tall

This is the story of soy in Koumbara:

When we hear “soy” we think many things.  We think healthful  and we think agricultural subsidies.  We think respected Asian tradition and we think Monsanto.  Today the word “soy” is more likely to incite ire over its less-than-wholesome applications in processed food.  However, here in Burkina, I’ve come to know soy as a great tool.

This past month, I took my counterpart (Yacouba) and his wife (Awa) to a training on soy cultivation and transformation out east in Fada.  They learned all about how to grow it and in addition, how to turn the dry, yellow seeds into tofu, milk, and yoghurt.  During those three days we consumed more soy products than I can count.  And the taste!  If you treat tofu like meat, marinate it, grill it, you’re going to have something pretty incredible on your hands–not some floating chunks of white mystery in your miso soup.

Back in Koumbara, we’ve taken to introducing this new product to the community.  Since the idea of curdling some solid paste from bean-water is not exactly up their alley, the people of Koumbara have taken to calling tofu sogo, or “meat” to simplify the idea.

What do they think?  They love the stuff.  Women come up to me now and ask:  An bina sogo ke lon juma?  What day are we going to make meat?  After introducing it, there is a verifiable buzz in the village.

In addition, they can’t wait to plant it knowing that the roots are nitrogen-fixing and can thus be another plant in their arsenal of crop rotation.  In fact, the FAO singled out soy as the crop for the future of West Africa.  The tofu/milk/yoghurt are also intensely healthful, providing a source of protein and essential vitamins not found in the typical Burkinabe diet.  Since meat consumption in Koumbara is non-existent save festivals and special occasions, soy can give these families the opportunity to provide a consistent source of “meat” to their children.  And this time of year–hunger season–there are a great deal of distended bellies from improper and insufficient diets.

Part of my rationale for taking my counterpart’s wife was to give her something to teach.  She is an intelligent woman, but shy (as she was raised to be) and I wanted to help her to empower herself.  Perhaps that’s wishful, sophomoric thinking, but seeing her in the small Koumbara market, shadowed by our leviathan white-tiled mosque, donning her apron (that she brings out especially for tofu), and teaching while she deftly stirs her work, I see that spark that could very well be her coming alive.

That’s the story of soy in Koumbara.  The product is not just soy sauce and processed food.  It’s potentially a corner piece in the grand puzzle of this community’s food security.  And hopefully it’s Awa leading the charge to solve it.


PS:  If you’re interested in learning more about soy in Burkina, check out my friend Sam’s column on it!

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Jason Tsichlis

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June 2013