Africa: "Low use of fertilizers is one of the main causes of environmental degradation"
Increased population pressure in Africa has resulted in continuous cropping without fallow or other soil conservation practices. This has, in turn, caused soil degradation and nutrient depletion across much of the continent. Structural adjustment policies in the 1980s led Africa to be the only continent to abandon the path of agricultural intensification through enhanced productivity. The balance shifted to Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA), which turned out to be unsustainable in Africa when deployed on a wide scale: key constraints emerged at both the technical (e.g. lack of sufficient organic resources) and the socio-economic level (e.g. labour-intensive technologies). (Bationo et al. 2006)
Over the past three decades, agricultural productivity in Africa has declined and land degradation has increased. In addition to low inherent fertility, African soil nutrient balances are often negative, indicating that farmers mine their soils. It has been calculated that nutrients lost from African soils every year are equivalent to USD 4 billion worth of fertilizers. (Sanchez 2002) Researchers now recognize that organic and inorganic sources of nutrients need to be used together within a holistic framework– known as
Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)
– that addresses the full range of driving factors and consequences of soil degradation: biological, chemical, physical, social, economic, health, nutrition and political.
The farming systems currently used in Africa are unsustainable. Intensification is needed to feed growing populations, but it must be done in a way that uses soil nutrient and water resources efficiently and that relieves pressure on forests and other fragile lands. Because organic sources of nutrients are insufficient, low use of manufactured fertilizers is one of the main causes of environmental damage in Africa. (Bationo et al. 2006)
Fertilizers are necessary, but not sufficient, for agricultural development in Africa
One of the key characteristics of ISFM is the recognition that farmers’ decisions are not simply driven by soil and climatic factors. Current approaches to increasing fertilizer use in Africa as an important component of enhanced agricultural productivity and sustainability therefore comprise issues related to institutional risks, policy environments, financial and economic constraints, market opportunities and agronomic matters, among others.
Solutions need to provide timely and affordable access to agricultural inputs (fertilizers, improved seeds, crop protection products, etc.), credit facilities, infrastructure development and market opportunities. Successful approaches have entailed building farmer capacity by forming cooperatives and teaching business skills; credit insurance schemes for farmers, retailers and wholesalers; vouchers to purchase inputs from private-sectors dealers; providing market information through the internet and mobile phones; and multistakeholder public-private partnerships around specific agricultural development corridors.
Reference and further reading:
- Bationo, A., A. Hartemink, O. Lungu, M. Naimi, P. Okoth, E. Smaling and L. Thiombiano (2006)
African Soils: Their Productivity and Profitability for Fertilizer Use.
Background paper for the Africa Fertilizer Summit. 9-13 June 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria.
Restoring Soil Health in Africa
African Researcher André Bationo Recognized for His Work on Soil Fertility Restoration and Balanced Fertilization
Minot, N., and T. Benson. 2009. Fertilizer subsidies in Africa: Are vouchers the answer? Issue Brief 60. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute