African countries urged to do more to increase fertilizer access and use

11 Jan 2015

African governments need to urgently put policies and infrastructure in place to ensure increased fertilizer access and use in order to increase agricultural productivity in line with the ‘Abuja declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution’, a meeting convened by the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Johannesburg recently agreed.

In June 2006, the African Union Special Summit of the Heads of State and Government, adopted the 12-Resolution “Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution”. One of the resolutions focused on increasing fertilizer use in sub-Saharan Africa from an average 8 kilograms then, to 50 kilograms per hectare by 2015. Currently, the region utilizes an average 12 kg of fertilizer per hectare, according to The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA).  In Asia, the average per hectare is 150kg per hectare.

The meeting, organised by the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) discussed progress made by African countries to ensure that Africa has a Green Revolution.  It also recommended the setting up of a secretariat to monitor progress on and push for achievement of the resolutions set out in the Declaration.

Countries represented at the meeting reported marginal increase in fertilizer use. Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Nigeria shared their experiences.   According to 2012 World Bank figures some of the countries with the highest increase in fertilizer use in sub-Saharan Africa are Ethiopia whose fertilizer use per hectare increased from 11kg per hectare to 24; Ghana from 20kg per hectare to 35; Kenya from 33 to 44.  However, consumption in other countries has decreased.  Fertilizer consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is very low compared to Asian countries such as Malaysia where consumption averages 1570kg per hectare, Hong Kong 1297kg per hectare and Bangladesh at 278 kg per hectare.

Participants at the meeting agreed that African governments need to invest more in agro dealer development to improve fertilizer distribution, particularly under the government subsidy programs. It was agreed that agro dealer development should not be left to NGOs and private sector players only.

At the same time, IFPRI has shown that high prices may not only be the result of several supply- and demand-side constraints at the regional and local level. Low-income regions are highly dependent on imported fertilizer and international import prices still represent a large fraction of the final price paid by farmers. Therefore, policies should be based on evidence both at the country and regional level to identify strategies that can be instrumental in enhancing the use of fertilizers. The meeting discussed how focus should move away from untargeted subsidies, which destroy business for the suppliers and dealers and threaten the fertilizer business.

Dr Maria Wanzala, AFAP regional director for East and Southern Africa highlighted factors constraining increased use of fertilizer such as outdated or non-existent fertilizer laws and regulatory frameworks.

“Issues impacting growth of fertilizer use include weak enforcement mechanisms which consequently lead to poor fertilizer quality control, weak agro-dealer networks, lack of initiatives to provide financial services to importers and agro-dealers, poor port, rail and road infrastructure and unsustainable, poorly planned and coordinated subsidy programs,” said Dr Wanzala.

Among the challenges faced by the countries represented are, lack of political will to support implementation of the Declaration, limited funding, poor infrastructure such as good roads and communication, high import tax and absence of credit guarantees.