New horizon for millions of African farmers

11 Apr 2015

New partnerships to improve soil fertility and plant nutrition by increasing the amount of commercial fertilizer supply and distribution are set to ensure increased fertilizer availability to millions of smallholder farmers in East and Southern Africa following a regional stakeholders’ meeting recently held in Zambia.

This first annual meeting of the  East and Southern Africa Fertilizer (ESAF) Trade Platform   was convened on 24 – 25 September in Lusaka to provide a platform for public-private dialogue and joint action in order to increase the amount of fertilizer the private sector produces, imports and distributes in East and Southern Africa.

Over 200 delegates who attended the meeting were drawn from private fertilizer companies, financial institutions, development partners as well as policy and other decision makers driving the regional fertilizer agenda.

A key outcome of the meeting was the agreement by delegates to set up Working Groups to address three main areas for joint action: 1) Regional market integration; 2) Alternative financing mechanisms and risk management tools; 3) Capacity building across the fertilizer value chain.

Focus areas for the Working Groups include improving soil fertility and plant nutrition, harmonizing policy and regulatory frameworks as well as promoting regional borderless trade. Delegates also agreed to facilitate access to finance, promote capacity building, establish agro-businesses, promote infrastructure development and engage industry associations.

“These deliberations show us that we can come together from different sectors and mobilize resources to ensure increased fertilizer supply to smallholder farmers,” says Dr Namanga Ngongi, African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) board of trustees chairperson.

The two-day meeting was comprised mainly of plenary sessions and a series of panel discussions which allowed for intense exchange of views between the delegates. It facilitated business-to-business linkages between regional and international fertilizer companies to promote increased trade and investment in the sector. It also provided a platform for public-and-private sector dialogue towards the creation of  a conducive policy and regulatory environment for the commercialization of the fertilizer industry in the region.

Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) secretary general, Sindiso Ngwenya called on the meeting to recognize agriculture’s contribution to the economy.

“When we talk of agriculture, it is more than fertilizer, it is about economies.  We are confident that this historic event will improve market integration, infrastructure development and industrialization in the region,” he said.

The ESAF Trade Platform has been established by AFAP in close collaboration with the Alliance for Commodity Trade in East and Southern Africa (ACTESA), a specialized agency within COMESA. The meeting was jointly hosted by AFAP and COMESA and featured exhibitions by renowned fertilizer companies including Bagtech, Export Trading Group (ETG), Greenbelt, OCP Group and Yargus Manufacturing.

Fertilizer use among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world, averaging 10 to 12 kg per hectare. This compares poorly to regions such as Asia where the average consumption is over 200kg per hectare.

Addressing the meeting, Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Honorable Given Lubinda praised the partnership for promoting agricultural growth in the region through the use of fertilizer.

“I would like to commend COMESA, ACTESA and AFAP for developing partnerships through this platform and coming up with this initiative to find solutions that mitigate the challenges being experienced by our smallholder farmers in accessing affordable, quality fertilizer at the right time and place,” said Lubinda.

The low fertilizer use rate in Africa is a key reason for the region’s low agricultural yields which translate into the high incidence of poverty and hunger we are all so familiar with.