Africa must raise fertilizer rate to boost food security

    By Busani Bafana

    MAPUTO, Mozambique – Africa should increase fertilizer use to boost food security by investing more in agriculture, a sector with greatest potential to drive economic growth and development, industry leaders have urged.

    Despite its vast arable, water resources and manpower, the African continent is largely food and nutritional insecure and net food importer. It is also one of the regions of the world with low agriculture productivity.

    Actors in the agriculture value chain say it is time Africa put its money where its mouth is and accelerate agriculture investment, including promoting access and use of fertilizers. Agriculture development can help unlock economic growth and boost agribusiness in Africa, a regional conference on the fertilizer trade heard.

    Fertilizer application remains low in Africa leading to poor crop yields, credit, Busani Bafana.JPG

    “Agriculture investment is a necessary tool for economic growth, job creation and sustainable livelihoods in Africa,” said Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, a food security advocate and former African Union Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Security in a keynote address at the East and Southern Africa Fertilizer and Agribusiness (ESAFA) Conference in the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

    “Agribusiness provides great potential to add value to the agriculture sector by unlocking the vast business opportunities for the fertilizer trade from manufacturing, agro processing, packaging, warehousing, distribution and retail,” Tumusiime said.

    The regional conference, organized by African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and the Commodities Research Unit, a leading independent, global fertilizers analysis think tank, brought together more than 300 delegates. The delegates who included  including industry executives, government and public sector representatives fertilizer suppliers,  farmers organisations and logistics companies, shared insights, identified problems and presented joint solutions to boosting the fertilizer supply and agribusiness trade investments in Africa.

    Africa has low fertilizer application rates compared to other regions because yield boosting resource is not accessible and affordable to smallholder farmers who constitute the bulk of food producers on the continent.

    Agriculture contributes at least 30% of Africa GDP of $1.6 trillion and is a major employer and provider of a bulk of industrial raw materials. Over 65 percent of the rural population relies on this sector for livelihood. However, poor policies, low investment, unattractive investment conditions and ill equipped smallholder farmers, remain obstacles in growing agriculture.

    “It is time Africa moves away from silver bullet approaches to increasing agriculture productivity to investing in more integrated approaches that include better knowledge sharing on improved seeds, blended fertilizers, environmental sustainable farming methods, mechanization,  access to affordable  finance, access to effective markets and value addition,” said Tumusiime adding that, “A collective of these approaches must improve our farm to fork processes and widen the agribusiness opportunities in innovation, processing, packaging, storage  retail and transport.”

    Agriculture entrepreneurs are driving Africa’s economic growth from food production, as business wakes up to opportunities of a rapidly growing food market in Africa that may be worth more than $1 trillion each year by 2030. Agripreneurs are substituting imports with high value food made in Africa, the 2017 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) by the African Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) found. According to the report, agriculture will be Africa’s quiet revolution, with a focus on SMEs and smallholder farmers creating the high productivity jobs and sustainable economic growth that failed to materialize from mineral deposits and increased urbanization.

    AFAP Chairman and former AGRA President, Namanga Ngongi, said Africa was in the clasp of great opportunity to transform its agriculture productivity if it can aim to for a 50 percent increase in fertilizer use every five years.

    “We need solutions to fix the fertilizer value chain and we need to reach cruising speed to transform African agriculture. It is possible with the right conditions,” Ngongi said.

    A special African Union Summit of the Heads of State and Government held in Nigeria in June 2006 adopted the Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for an African Green Revolution. The Declaration was a commitment by Heads of Government to increase Africa’s fertilizer use from the then-average 8kg per hectare to 50kg per hectare by 2015, a target that has not been met.

    According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, average fertilizer use in the region averages 12kg of fertilizer per hectare, compared to 150kg per hectare average in Asia.

    Concerned about the low fertilizer use in Africa compared to other parts of the world, the African Development Bank (AfDB) established the African Fertilizer Financial Mechanism (AFFM) in 2007. The Fund launched with the assistance of the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is funding programmes to push Africa’s fertilizer usage to 50kg per hectare.

    Despite a steady growth in global fertilizer trade, Africa is a small market accounting for about one percent of the 190 million tonnes world market for three key nitrogen, potash and phosphate fertilizers, according to insights from the) (CRU), a leading, independent, global metals, mining and fertilizers analysis consultancy.

    China, Brazil, USA and India are the major fertilizer markets with 30 countries consuming around 95 percent of the global fertilizer production.