Fertilizers: Critical to Agricultural Growth in Africa

Published on 29th June 2010

Land degradation is gaining in severity and magnitude for poor farmers in Africa. It affects an estimated 485 million people on the continent, resulting in losses of about $42 billion in income and 6 million hectares of productive land each year. 

Unfortunately, there are too many similar statistics that brings us to the conclusion that for African farmers to reverse decades of soil nutrient mining, the increased and judicious use of fertilizers is not an option.  It is a necessity. 

No region in the World has been able to achieve food security without significantly increasing the use of fertilizer.  Fertilizer application rates in Sub Saharan Africa now average 6 kilograms per hectare.  These rates are far below the target of 50 kilograms per hectare set in the Abuja Declaration and not even comparable to the 150 kilograms per hectare applied by Asian farmers.

There should not be any ambiguities in our priorities.  If we agree on the fact that agriculture is the number one priority in Africa’s development agenda, then, we must agree that fertilizers are critical to achieving agricultural growth needed by the Continent.  And if we agree that greater use of fertilizer is without doubt a necessity to have an African Green Revolution, to reach the CAADP goal of 6% annual agricultural growth, and to reach the first Millennium Development goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015; then what are we still waiting for to put fertilizers upfront in the Continent’s development agenda?

We have been talking about Africa’s soil fertility crisis for a long time. We are tired of speeches and meetings about land degradation, the resulting losses of soil nutrients, as well as the critical implications for food insecurity on the Continent while vigorous actions are needed and should be taken.  That is the purpose of the collaboration between the African Union Commission (AUC) and International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC). 

Since 1974, IFDC has consistently worked to improve soil fertility and transform agriculture in the developing World.  With 2 regional divisions and 23 country offices in Africa, IFDC is and has long been operating closely with national governments, regional economic communities, the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission to support the efforts of the  the African Continent to “feed its soils to feed its people”. 

It is significant that we are strengthening our cooperation and collaboration especially at this time when the Chairman of the African Union has highlighted the vision of ‘‘A Food-secure Africa: 5-year Commitment’’ thereby boosting the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) whose implementation has been accelerated since the AU July 2009 Sirte Summit on the Theme: ‘‘Investing in Agriculture for Economic Growth and Food Security’’ and the July 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila,Italy where considerable pledges were made towardsglobal agriculture and food security. We are enhancing our collaboration at the time when the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank, Regional Economic Communities and other key stakeholders are working hard to operationalise the African Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM). We are, therefore, pleased and encouraged by this momentum and we are committed to taking it forward.

I congratulate IFDC on joining hands with the African Union Commission and NEPAD to organize the African Fertilizer Summit 4 years ago.  This Summit brought together almost one thousand participants, including African heads of state, African ministers, presidents and heads of international donor organizations, private-sector firms, farmers’ organizations and senior policymakers, in a cooperative effort to agree on a strategy to accelerate the access of millions of poor farmers to fertilizer in order to help them to raise their farm production and achieve food security.  

We have agreed on a set of actions to reduce the delivered cost of plant nutrients so that farm intensification becomes economically feasible.  We must now continue our work to make this happen.

Since the endorsement of the Abuja Declaration on Fertilizers by the AU Heads of State and Government, the AU member states, NEPAD and the Regional Economic Communities have dedicated considerable resources to promoting fertilizer use and supply in Africa and these efforts have been critical to the achievement of the AU’s vision of “a new, emergent, and integrated Africa;” a Continent invigorated by increased agricultural productivity, food security and substantial economic development.

IFDC’s mission is aligned with AU’s vision and specifically with the mandate of AU Commission’s Priority Program 11 of Food Security and Sufficiency to create enabling conditions and facilitate actions to improve agricultural productivity, reduce food insecurity and rural poverty. 

By H.E. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime
Commissioner of Rural Economy and Agriculture,
African Union Commission

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