Crop yields in Africa remain low compared to elsewhere in the world because smallholder farmers are using less fertilizers, a critical input that can help raise productivity and soil fertility.
Africa is challenged by generally poor soil fertility and land degradation, which affects more than 40 percent of its arable land.
Cooperation between all actors in the agriculture value chain is needed to change Africa’s food fortunes by addressing soil fertility issues, researchers say.
Plans are afoot to form a research consortium to find answers to how Africa can accelerate access and effective use of fertilizers. The planned consortium will bring together all key institutions in fertilizer value chains to harmonize technologies and communication aspects to managing soils in Africa for a triple win; increasing fertilizer use for efficiency, increasing yields and improving the nutritional quality of food produced.
The process to initiate the consortium is led by International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), International Fertilizer Association (IFA) International Potash Institute (IPI), International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Africa Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and the fertilizer industry. A working committee has been established to operationalize the consortium. It has also developed a framework to develop collaboration agreements with public and private sector institutions.
Dr. Shamie Zingore, sub-Saharan Africa Regional Director for IPNI, says a lot of crop and soil fertility research over the past decades has been fragmented, with a lack of consistency in research approaches to develop recommendations for fertilizer use.
There is a growing research interest in soil diagnosis, soil health and analysis at the farm level which deals with soil fertility, a key challenge in Africa, Zingore said.
“The ideal behind the consortium is based on the need for collaboration and leveraging among organisations that deal with soil and fertilizer research and work towards holistic approaches based on guiding principles that can be adapted to different technologies and innovations,” Zingore said, adding that, “For a long time soil issues have been neglected, with limited research investments to improve the understanding of crop and site-specific fertilizer recommendations.”
African Head of State signed the Abuja Declaration in 2006 to raise fertilizer nutrient use to 50kg/ha from the then average 8kg/ha to boost soil health. However, this target has not been met with current rate averaging 12kg/ha in Africa.