ESAFA Conference Highlights: Africa needs to urgently raise fertilizer use to boost food security

06 Dec 2017

Despite its vast arable, water resources and manpower, the African continent is largely food and nutritional insecure and a net food importer. It is also one of the regions of the world where agriculture productivity remains low.

Africa needs to increase fertilizer use to boost food security by investing more in agriculture, a sector with greatest potential to drive economic growth and development, industry leaders have urged.

Actors in the agriculture value chain say it is time Africa put its money where its mouth is and accelerate agriculture investment, including promoting access and use of fertilizers. Agriculture development can help unlock economic growth and boost agribusiness in Africa, a regional conference on the fertilizer trade heard.

“Agriculture investment is a necessary tool for economic growth, job creation and sustainable livelihoods in Africa,” says Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, a food security advocate and former African Union Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Security, during the sidelines of the East and Southern Africa Fertilizer and Agribusiness (ESAFA) 2017 Conference in the Mozambican capital, Maputo recently.

The regional conference, organized by African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and the Commodities Research Unit (CRU), a leading independent, global fertilizers analysis think-tank, brought together more than 300 delegates. The delegates who included including industry executives, government and public sector representatives fertilizer suppliers and farmer organisations shared insights, identified problems and presented joint solutions to boosting the fertilizer supply and agribusiness trade investments in Africa.

Africa has low fertilizer application rates compared to other regions because yield boosting resource is not accessible and affordable to smallholder farmers who constitute the bulk of food producers on the continent.

“Agribusiness provides great potential to add value to the agriculture sector by unlocking the vast business opportunities for the fertilizer trade from manufacturing, agro processing, packaging, warehousing, distribution and retail,” Tumusiime said.

Agriculture contributes at least 30% of Africa GDP of $1.6 trillion and is a major employer and provider of a bulk of industrial raw materials. Over 65 percent of the rural population relies on this sector for livelihood. However, poor policies, low investment, unattractive investment conditions and ill equipped smallholder farmers, remain obstacles in growing agriculture.

“It is time Africa moves away from silver bullet approaches to increasing agriculture productivity to investing in more integrated approaches that include better knowledge sharing on improved seeds, blended fertilizers, environmental sustainable farming methods, mechanization, access to affordable finance, access to effective markets and value addition,” said Tumusiime adding that, “A collective of these approaches must improve our farm to fork processes and widen the agribusiness opportunities in innovation, processing, packaging, storage retail and transport.”

Agriculture entrepreneurs are driving Africa’s economic growth from food production, as business wakes up to opportunities of a rapidly growing food market in Africa that may be worth more than $1 trillion by 2030, according to the 2017 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) by the African Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Agripreneurs are substituting imports with high value food made in Africa, the report found.

According to the report, agriculture will be Africa’s quiet revolution, with a focus on SMEs and smallholder farmers creating the high productivity jobs and sustainable economic growth that failed to materialize from mineral deposits and increased urbanization.

AFAP Chairman and former AGRA President, Namanga Ngongi, said Africa was in the clasp of great opportunity to transform its agriculture productivity if it can aim for a 50 percent increase in fertilizer use every five years.