Source: Innovative fertilizers revive hope for an organic revolution | Africa Renewal


Phillip Tshuma is a happy farmer. Despite one of the worst droughts that her country, Zimbabwe, has ever known, her maize and small seed crop this year increased by 50% compared to 2015, thanks to micro-dosing, a technique that involves applying small amounts of fertilizer in a targeted manner.

Thanks to micro dosing, farmers use 8 to 10 kg of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare, or one fifth of the rates usually recommended.

In the past season, Phillip Tshuma’s harvest allowed him to make nearly $ 350 in profit, a significant number in a country where most people survive on less than $ 1.25 a day.

Ten years ago, African leaders adopted a twelve-point resolution on the use of fertilizers at a special summit in Abuja, Nigeria, to start a “green revolution” in Africa. Recognizing that inorganic fertilizers alone cannot increase agricultural production, they called on the countries concerned to commit to increasing their use of fertilizers, from an average of 8 kg per hectare in 2005 to 50 kg per hectare in 2005. hectare in 2015.

Organic and inorganic fertilizers provide plants with the nutrients they need to be strong and resistant. Organic fertilizers (manure, leaves and compost) only contain material from other plants or animals. They are either derived products or finished products resulting from natural processes. Inorganic fertilizer, also called synthetic fertilizer, is produced artificially and contains synthetic chemicals.

Organic fertilizers only release their nutrients when the soils are warm and humid, while the nutrient supply of inorganic fertilizers to plants is immediate.

In starting its own green revolution, Africa would follow the example of Asia and Latin America, where effective policies combined with new agricultural techniques, but also improved inputs and varieties of crops. high yielding seeds improved crops and reduced poverty.

Even though no country has reached the targets set for 2015, Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union, believes that there is no cause for concern and that countries must continue to invest to improve the access of small farms to these fertilizers.

Increasing demand

Richard Mkandawire is vice-president of the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), an organization responsible for promoting investment in commercial fertilizers in Africa. Although some countries have not met their targets, he said, they have made significant progress in the use of fertilizers.

A World Bank report notes that between 2005 and 2015, Ethiopia recorded its largest increase in fertilizer use per hectare, from 11 to 24 kg. During the same period, fertilizer use in Ghana increased from 20 to 35 kg per hectare and that in Kenya from 33 to 44 kg. The increase in the use of fertilizers over 10 years has resulted in increased yields on farms and in the agricultural sector in general.

In March 2016, at a regional conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Côte d’Ivoire, Amit Roy, former president of the International Fertilizer Development Center, said that Africa did not meet the targets set in the Abuja Declaration, but was on track to reach an average of 17 kg of fertilizer per hectare by 2018. Even if this progress remains modest, it will represent a doubling of the quantities used at the time the declaration was signed.

According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, a trade organization that represents more than 500 fertilizer producers and distributors, even today fertilizer use in a large number of African countries does not exceed 12 kg per hectare, against 1,570 kg per hectare in Malaysia, 1,297 kg in Hong Kong or 278 kg in Bangladesh.

Nevertheless, demand for fertilizer has continued to increase in Africa since 2008, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where its use has increased by 130% according to the International Fertilizer Development Center, a group which seeks to improve agricultural productivity by developing crop nutrition and agro-food industry skills.

For Amit Roy, the demand for fertilizer should reach 7 million tonnes in 2018, even if this figure represents only 2% of world consumption, dominated by Brazil, China, India and the United States, which alone are responsible for 55% of global demand.

The example of Phillip Tshuma, who is one of 170,000 households in Zimbabwe to use micro-dosing, proves that this method may well be instrumental in increasing the use of fertilizers in Africa. Mr. Tchuma’s grain production has doubled, greatly improving his family’s food security. Promoting micro-dosing in Zimbabwe has already saved the country $ 7 million annually in food imports, according to the International Crops Research Institute of the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Micro dosing is an inexpensive technique that, when adopted by smallholder farmers, increases fertilizer use, according to ICRISAT, who adds that the returns on investment are even greater than before.

Mr. Tshuma assures us that the low doses of fertilizer he uses in micro dosage increase his yields without having to invest large sums of money. If he applied the amounts recommended by African leaders (50 kg per hectare), he would have to spend more than $ 300 each season, just on fertilizers.

In Zimbabwe, ICRISAT is using crop models to study the cost of microdosing and how it works. The study conducted by this agency indicates that against all expectations, small amounts of fertilizer can also increase yields significantly. Farmers use 8 to 10 kg per hectare of nitrogen fertilizer in micro dosage, or about one fifth of the recommended application rates.

Soil infertility

The decline in soil fertility caused by factors such as monoculture, soil degradation or others, is often blamed for poor crops in Africa. Rather, it should encourage smallholders to use fertilizers.

Fertilizers improve soil quality and also help curb soil erosion and nutrient losses. In its Report on the State of Soil Resources in the World published in 2015, FAO urges countries to encourage their farmers to reincorporate crop residues and other organic matter into the soils they farm, to make use of crop rotation by combining nitrogen-fixing plants and to use organic and mineral fertilizers in a reasoned manner.

“Fertilizers are essential for ensuring African food security and we must continue to encourage the private sector to invest in increasing their use,” explains Ms. Tumusiime.

How to finance fertilizers

To promote the use of fertilizers on the continent, Africa must also develop sustainable soil management practices and make the most of the African Fertilizer Funding Mechanism established by the African Union at the Summit of the African Union. Africa on fertilizers in 2006, continues Mr. Roy.

Last July, a meeting was organized by AFAP and the International Food Policy Research Institute, a center for global agricultural research, to take stock of progress in fertilizer use in Africa. The conclusion ? Despite the establishment of regional markets for fertilizers in several regional economic communities, these markets face a lack of infrastructure and distribution networks, as well as storage issues and difficulties with local mixing facilities. fertilizer.

Smallholder farms will increase their use of fertilizers if accessibility to these fertilizers is improved, insists Mkandawire.

Smallholder farmers are trapped in poverty and have to contend with low soil fertility that prevents them from purchasing the inputs that would allow them to increase their productivity and fight hunger, concludes Mkandawire.

Experts all agree that micro-dosing, increasing the use of fertilizers, private investment, improving access to credit, reducing import costs, adopting programs smart subsidies and the proliferation of sustainable land use practices will help Africa achieve its dream of a green revolution. The challenge for the countries concerned is now to continue along the path started in collaboration with these experts.