Around the globe, your checkoff dollars provide food security for millions while growing trade opportunities for U.S. Soy. The checkoff-supported World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) specializes in building markets in areas that import little to no U.S. soybeans, taking growth potential into account.
Earlier this year, the American Soybean Association announced Gena Perry as executive director of the organization’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health program. Perry joined WISHH in 2019 as project director of WISHH’s USDA-funded Food for Progress project in Ghana. Before joining WISHH, she lived and worked in West Africa as a liaison for AgriCorps and 4-H Ghana, then took on the role of AgriCorps chief of staff. We recently visited with Perry about her new role with WISHH.
How does the checkoff help with WISHH’s mission?
All the stars aligned between the farmer-led strategic plans for WISHH, the soy checkoff and ASA. The checkoff’s focus on health and nutrition for animals and humans perfectly aligns with what WISHH does. We’re closing the protein gap and creating new markets for U.S. Soy. That protein could be human food, fish, chickens or whatever eats soy. By leveraging checkoff dollars, we’re opening new markets that wouldn’t have been touched otherwise. For example, the checkoff is helping us refine our aquaculture strategies in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. There’s been this massive shift to aquaculture in many places where WISHH works. By leveraging checkoff funding, we’re able to do so much more. Farmer investment allows us to tie all the pieces together and make sure that we’re catching every opportunity to build out that market.
What excites you about working with WISHH?
I’ve always had a focus on international work. I think agriculture connects people all over the world. So even if cultures are wildly different, you can always connect with that knowledge and background if you’re talking to a farmer. I know and understand how development leads to trade. I’ve tended to gravitate more to the development side because I like the nitty-gritty, on-the-ground fieldwork, working with people and capacity building. But it’s really fun to also learn about the trade aspect and the market development that allow you to see growth happening over the years. WISHH works in both trade and development, and that’s unique. We straddle that line of doing development activities and also market development because those two are so interrelated. Development leads to trade. So, I think the way WISHH approaches development work aligns with my personal beliefs of going in and asking what they need, not telling. It’s relying on our local partners (in the areas we are working) that are telling us they need this and this and then being able to help them gain the knowledge and access that they need to solve problems and move the project forward.
Where does WISHH operate?
WISHH is working in 28 countries, which is a record number for us. Most of our work is in sub-Saharan Africa, but we are also working in Latin America and Asia. We recently started programming in Kazakhstan, which is focused mainly on poultry opportunities there, and Zambia looking at the aquaculture sector.
Who makes the program’s work possible?
We are funded by USDA, the soy checkoff and the Qualified State Soybean Boards. A lot of what we do is technical assistance, but we also provide business development. The WISHH team brings a lot of experience; our staff represents over 78 years of experience, and we’re only 11 people. Seventy-five percent of our staff have lived in the markets that we work in.
Looking forward, what impacts do you see WISHH having in the countries you’re working in?
WISHH is working to close the protein gap, meaning there’s more protein that’s being demanded than what’s locally available. We want to make sure that protein is affordable and accessible. That’s what food security is — working with farmers and producers to ensure that protein, fish, eggs or chicken are readily available, safe and nutritious. WISHH has been working in food security since it started. I think people are finally beginning to see the impact on developing and even developed countries.
Through our work with the checkoff, we’re working with Edesia Nutrition, for example, based in Rhode Island. We recently hosted a dialogue with farmers, university representatives and value chain representatives. They toured a company that makes ready-to-use therapeutic and supplemental foods to treat acute malnutrition in the most vulnerable places worldwide. Their products use U.S. Soy, and the demand for their products is growing exponentially.
As world events impact the need for reliable protein sources, the work that WISHH and other organizations accomplish becomes more important. WISHH is currently working to grow markets in 28 countries that utilize U.S. Soy. The goal is to increase demand and develop infrastructure in those markets to a point where the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) can establish large-scale market access. The foundational work of WISHH combined with USSEC is increasing exports of U.S. Soy and helping to feed a hungry world.