The use of fertilizers is one of the most fundamental ways to increase crop yields and eradicate poverty on the African continent, according to an agricultural expert attending the 2014 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).
Richard Mkandawire, Vice President of the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), made this assertion during a plenary session on scaling up domestic private sector investment in transforming the agricultural value chain, with specific reference to smallholder farmer access to fertilizers. Mkandawire called for major investments in the agricultural sector as an effective strategy for eradicating poverty.
“By recognizing 2014 as the ‘Year of Agriculture and Food Security’, the African Union has once again given special focus to the illusive MDG 1, that of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The reality is that many constraints still stifle the productivity of the continent’s smallholder farmers. A critical constraint that is still neglected is access to fertilizer.
“Fertilizers have been proven to double or even triple yields within a single cropping season. For every 1 kg of nutrient applied, farmers obtain 5-30 kg of additional product. Yet fertilizer in Africa is woefully underused. It is estimated that African soils lose 8 million tons of nutrients per year and that 75% of the continent has been degraded to the point of greatly reduced productivity,” he said.
He bemoaned the low usage of fertilizers in Africa, currently estimated at around 10kg per hectare compared to the commitments made by African Heads of State in the Abuja Declaration to raise usage to 50 kg per hectare by 2015.
Mkandawireadded that high transaction costs, particularly transport costs, mean that retail fertilizer prices in Africa are significantly higher than in the rest of the world, making them prohibitively expensive for the majority of small farmers.
AFAP and seven other fertilizer institutions from both the public and private sector wrote to the African Heads of State meeting at the AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea to address several key areas, including: provision of access to credit, finance and insurance;facilitation of imports and the distribution of diverse fertilizer products; investment in infrastructure like transport, handling, storage, and blending facilities; development of mobile technologies to provide information on markets, extension services and prices as well as training of extension workers to help farmers organize themselves.