Illinois Soybean Growers Kickstarted 20 Years of Trailblazing Trade Through ASA/WISHH

By Roberta Simpson-Dolbeare | ASA/WISHH Vice Chair

Visionary Illinois soybean growers were the driving force in founding the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) 20 years ago. Today, Illinois soybean growers continue to benefit from our investments in ASA/WISHH’s important work to reach new and emerging export markets for U.S. soybean growers.

From Africa to Asia and Latin America, WISHH is leading discussions in 20 countries with food and feed companies, including on the scientific research that supports U.S. soy’s nutrition and quality. WISHH is working with strategic partners who are making more protein available through soyfoods, breads, beverages as well as fish, eggs, and meat.

Central American Food and Beverage Markets Grow Despite Pandemic

Central American farmers with products
Roberta Simpson-Dolbeare (second from left) and other U.S. soybean growers meet with a U.S. soy customer in Central America as part of a WISHH 2018 trade team. Central American food companies have shown resilience during the pandemic and continue to work with WISHH to innovate with U.S. soy protein. Also pictured are Laurie Isley of Michigan and the current WISHH Chairman Gerry Hayden of Kentucky.

I saw from my own travels with WISHH to Guatemala and El Salvador in 2018 that there is a growing global demand for protein. Our soybeans have an important role to play in filling the protein gap in diets. Central America’s food and beverage industry is projected to grow nearly five times faster than in the United States between 2019 and 2023, according to Statista.com. 

Recently released USDA reports feature Guatemala and El Salvador as important countries for U.S. agriculture even as the countries face the challenges of COVID-19. WISHH’s ongoing strategies in the countries capitalize on the opportunities to grow U.S. soy’s presence in human foods.

USDA’s Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report on Guatemala states, “Guatemala is one of the top food processing countries in Central America. U.S. suppliers have a good opportunity to export bulk commodities and raw materials for further processing in Guatemala’s food industry. In 2020, Guatemalan export sales of processed foods to the world were $2.9 billion, and despite the pandemic, the food and beverage sector in Guatemala increased its exports by 2.8 percent from 2019. This sector represented 3.8 percent of total GDP.”

The USDA report specifically recognizes opportunities for soy in Guatemalan beverages as well as snacks; two of the sectors where WISHH has not let COVID-19 stop virtual work with key food and beverage manufacturers. When COVID-19 restrictions blocked travel and more, WISHH launched online technical assistance, supporting three times the number of companies typically served using the in-person training approach.

The trainings build on WISHH’s 2019 USDA Agricultural Trade Promotion-funded market assessment. WISHH’s research revealed that nearly half of Central American and Dominican Republic key food and beverage manufacturing executives surveyed would invest their own capital into equipment and expand their businesses if WISHH could provide them with technical assistance/training and outline the cost benefits of incorporating soy protein ingredients.

USDA’s GAIN report on El Salvador references the Salvadoran Industrialists Association’s latest industry statistics (2019) that shows, “food imports registered a total of $882.6 million, which is 17.6% more than in 2018. It is notable that despite the pandemic, which hit most economic sectors hard, El Salvador’s food industry continued steady operations.”

ASA/WISHHFurthermore, new Salvadoran Government regulations ban fatty/salty snacks and carbonated beverages at schools. USDA reports the policy opens opportunities for U.S. soybeans as a healthier option.

The release of the U.S. government’s 'Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025’ gives WISHH even more good news for soybean growers to share on U.S. soy.  As a globally respected, science-based reference, the report recognizes soy in core elements of healthy dietary patterns.

Knowing that protein plays an essential role in human nutrition, visionary U.S. soybean growers founded WISHH in 2000 to serve as a catalyst in emerging markets. WISHH brings the power of strategic partnerships to our unique market-systems approach. Local business leaders, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as academic institutions join WISHH in increasing demand and fueling economic growth for the sustained availability of nutritious and affordable human foods and livestock feeds.

To learn more about WISHH, visit WISHH.org.