Filling Stomachs in Afghanistan One Soybean At a Time

Afghanistan is suffering from malnutrition.

It is home to one of the highest mortality rates at childbirth, one in 50 women die at childbirth, it has the world's highest infant
mortality rate, one in 10 infants die, and one in four Afghan children dies before the age of five.

The country has been torn apart by years of wars, with over 2 million people dying in the past 30 years because of the fighting.

This extreme upheaval is leaving a deep
wound with the women and children of the country. Because of the social status of women in the country, the widows are left with no way of supporting their children and they are dying in unimaginable numbers
in villages all across the country
from lack of food and nutrition.

Dr. Steven Kwan, a retired nutrition scientist for Nestle, is doing something about it . He spoke last Thursday on campus
about the creation of a non-profit organization he created with one simple mission, to end malnutrition in Afghanistan.

The organization is called Nutrition and Education International (NEI).

Kwan's plan is brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness. "Malnutrition is synonymous to protein deficiency," said Kwan,
and malnutrition is "the major root cause" of death in the country.

Protein has four good sources: meat, milk, eggs and soy. And so he has taken the matter into his own hands by creating a soybean
industry all across the country. Soy is an excellent source of protein because it not only has 34 percent protein but nine essential amino acids as well.

Kwan and his team started from scratch, Afghanis had never grown soybeans before. It was a "humbling exper ience" s aid Kwan about
teaching the farmers how to grow the plant.

They first had to test the soil and land to see if soybeans could grow in their climate. After two years of successful results they
were able to start their mission and started by teaching the farmers in the country how to plant these new seeds.

In 2005 they experimented and had successful production in 12 provinces, and in the same year the local government in Afghanistan
adopted NEI's soy nutrition mission as a national program.

Kwan and his team are now joined with Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Higher Education.

Together they are working to cultivate the soy industry, end malnutrition, empower women
and ultimately help to save the country.

The US has also joined forces. The US embassy of Afghanistan, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, Stine Seed Company, Insta-Pro International and Fortitech of New York are all collaborating
with NEI for this great cause.

By 2008 over 5,000 farmers in 15 provinces produced 2,000 tons of soybeans. There are now five soy milk processing facilities and one soy flour factory established.

The people in Afghanistan "love to eat soy" said Kwan. Afghanis are accustomed to using corn as their staple to make flour. They are now mixing it with the soy flour to make some of their favorite recipes.

One of their favorites is making traditional naan bread, similar to flat bread.

Afghanis are so enthusiastic about this new ingredient they happily shared with Kwan and his team three reasons why they love it.

Even though they can't see it, they are grateful for the nutrition in it, they enjoy cooking it because of the browning effects and the protein from the soy gives the bread a softer texture giving it a deliciously
slightly sweet taste, finally the bread
stays good for two days longer than
the old corn flour based bread.

Kwan is proud to make this food a new staple. "Now the country has adapted this new food culture," said Kwan.

Kwan's efforts have truly helped save lives in Afghanistan and he hopes to continue his mission and "officially end malnutrition" by producing 5,000 tons of soybeans in years to come.

"It's made me think about what my contribution to the world will be in the future" said Jack Duplechain, a sociology major who attended the lecture last Thursday.