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Kenya hosts Africa fertiliser and soil health summit to boost agricultural productivity and food security

By George George Idowu

Kenya has once again positioned itself as a critical venue for addressing key continental issues by hosting the Africa Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit.

This event, following last year’s pioneering Africa Climate Summit, focused on the urgent need to enhance fertiliser use in Africa’s agricultural systems to improve food security.

The summit comes at a pivotal moment as Africa faces persistent challenges in achieving self-sufficiency in food production. Currently, the average fertiliser application rate on the continent stands at just 20 tonnes per hectare, significantly below the global average of 100 tonnes per hectare.

This inadequate usage, combined with nutrient depletion due to poor farming practices, has led to a heavy reliance on food imports, costing over $60 billion annually and projected to rise to $150 billion by 2050 if production does not improve.

The summit reiterated the importance of adopting conservation agriculture practices, such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and organic amendments like biochar and manure.

These techniques can improve soil health and increase the efficiency of fertiliser use, reducing losses through evaporation, leaching, and erosion.

Historically, initiatives like the “Green Revolution” in other regions have demonstrated that increased fertiliser application is crucial for robust agricultural development and food security.

Africa has seen similar efforts, such as the Abuja Declaration of 2006, which aimed to increase fertiliser application rates to 50 tonnes per hectare by 2015.

However, progress has been slow, and the new target set at the recent summit extends this goal to 2034, with an added focus on reversing land degradation on 30% of degraded soils.

Despite these ambitious targets, the challenges of fertiliser availability and affordability remain significant. Limited manufacturing on the continent and dependence on imported fertilisers drive up costs, exacerbated by global geopolitical shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War, which have disrupted supply chains.

Notably, some countries have made strides in improving fertiliser use. Malawi’s Fertiliser Subsidy Programme, launched in 2005/2006, doubled maize yields through government subsidies, though it later faced issues of mismanagement.

South Africa has consistently maintained high levels of fertiliser application, ensuring stable food security and even aiding neighbouring countries in times of need.

The Africa Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit highlighted the need for introspection and action. Leaders acknowledged the vital role of fertiliser and soil health in enhancing agricultural productivity and food security.

However, the summit also underscored the necessity for African nations to implement and prioritize the goals set in previous declarations and agreements.

Moving forward, African leaders must create an environment that emphasizes the importance of agriculture for the continent’s development. Summits should serve as platforms for assessing progress and planning concrete steps to achieve food security.

Africa has the potential to feed itself and must strive to reduce its dependence on imported food, turning declarations into tangible actions for sustainable agricultural growth.

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