African leaders commit to tripling domestic production and distribution of fertilisers

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The Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit (AFSH) organized by the African Union concludes with the adoption of a 10-year action plan that aims to increase investments in the local production and distribution of both organic and inorganic fertilizers, ensuring they reach 70% of small-holder farmers across the continent. The plan reasserts the 2006 Abuja declaration goal, to triple fertilizer use in Africa to reach the goal of 50 (kilograms per hectare of arable land).

On Soil Health, the African leaders have committed to reverse land degradation and restore soil health on at least 30% of degraded soil by 2033.

“In terms of fertilizer use, Africa is below the global average and the target set by African Heads of State and Government in 2006 ” acknowledged H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission in his speech on the closure of the summit. “Eighteen years later, the average fertilizer use rate stands at about 18 kilograms, less than half of the target set in 2006. We have a responsibility to learn and apply the lessons on why this gap remains”

There is a vast disparity in fertilizer use within Africa, which ranges from 0.03 kg/ha in Sudan and 1.04 kg/ha in Somalia to 542.47 kg/ha in Seychelles and 542.57 kg/ha in Egypt, the highest figure recorded by an African country.

Since the Abuja declaration goal, only 10 countries met or surpassed the 50 Kg/ha goal. These countries are: Morocco 55.29, Eswatini 57.77, Botswana 59.27, Kenya 60.66, Zambia 63.90, Malawi 96.74, South Africa 104.64, Mauritius 186.50, Seychelles 542.47 and Egypt 542.57.

Despite producing around 30 million metric tons of mineral fertilizer annually, many African countries still heavily rely on imports, particularly non-phosphate-based fertilizers, leaving them vulnerable to market shocks.

On the other hand, soil scientists, agricultural experts, activists, and farmer groups have denounced the action plan’s reliance on chemical fertilizers, some even called it “a recipe for disaster.”  Experts emphasised that soil health goes beyond the quick fixes provided by chemical fertilizers, as we need to think of our soils holistically. Soil health is crucial for Africa’s food security.

Research is showing that inorganic fertilizers alone are not increasing yields in Africa, as 15% of all agricultural soils in Africa are affected by acidity issues which affect the soil’s ability to utilize Nitrogen fertilizers. Meanwhile, studies show that the integration of organic and inorganic fertilizers improves crop productivity.

Bridget Mugambe, Program Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said soil health goes beyond the quick fixes provided by chemical fertilisers.

“Chemical fertilisers have extensively damaged our soils in Africa. We need to think of our soils in a more holistic way. The 10-year action plan is an opportunity to head in the right direction with a deliberate move to phase out the use of chemical fertilisers as we enhance biofertilizers and other agroecological inputs”

Stephen Muchiri, the Executive Director of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation weighed in by reiterating that inorganic fertilisers were never meant to be the foundation of crop production.

“We abandoned Good Agriculture Practices that incorporated agroecology, conservation farming, and mixed farming and embraced intensive commercially inclined farming, our soils are now poor, acidic, and low in biomass resources, and without life! We have to embrace farming approaches that will enhance the soil’s organic carbon and bring life to the soil, we have to embrace cyclic-agriculture practices and combine crop-livestock-agroforestry enterprises.”

Elizabeth Atieno Opolo, a Food Campaigner with Greenpeace Africa said the 10-year action plan underscores a continued reliance on synthetic solutions that sideline the real needs of Africa, particularly its small-scale farmers.

“We have witnessed projects like these falter without meaningful benefits for years—why then do we persist with approaches that clearly do not work? Meanwhile, multinational corporations reap billions in profits, leaving African farmers grappling with increasing food insecurities. We urgently need to shift our attention towards investing in local agro-ecological knowledge, promoting community-based initiatives, phasing out synthetic inputs, and implementing policies to protect small-scale farmers. These will ensure a food system that truly serves the African people, promoting true food sovereignty and environmental resilience.”

Dr. Alex Awiti, Principal Scientist, Agroecology, and Policy Advisor at CIFOR-ICRAF (Center for International Forest Research – World Agroforestry) noted that a real African Green revolution has to rely on a strong investment, policy support, and innovation to bring organics into play.

“When you do that, you also raise the demand and application of fertilizers, because farmers start to see the benefit. This is a momentous junction for Africa, and the policymakers now have to open the door to support innovation in organics, anybody who wants to invest in food system transformation in Africa has to work down this path. Kofi Anan in 2004 said for the African green revolution, you need trees, crops, livestock, and water. We forgot that the trees and crops are supposed to bring the organics into the system. Even on Climate change, the organic fertilizer, Biochar, is one of the best storehouses of Carbon Dioxide. If we combine them with inorganic fertilizers, we can reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture. We can actually make agriculture in Africa carbon-negative. There is no straight line between today and Abuja, this is a paradigm shift.”

Ferdinand Wafula of Bio Gardening Innovations, Kenya, and a member of The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said Africa needs a diversity of diverse crops using ecological methods.

“Synthetic materials kill microorganisms. If they kill that, we cultivate on dead soil. Dead soil does not give us nutrition.”

Hakim Baliraine, Chair of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small scale farmers Forum (ESAFF) had this to say: “The fact we now have an action plan to improve the health of Africa’s soils is good news. However, the failure to consult farmers – who are key to delivering this plan – means there are significant gaps. How can we triple the use and production of mineral fertiliser when farmers struggle to pay for what they use now? Saddling African farmers with more debt and promoting the use of chemical fertilisers that are killing our soils is not the answer.

“African leaders and funders need to set a clearer vision for African agriculture. They must empower small-holder farmers to produce more environmentally friendly organic fertiliser and they must support a shift to more sustainable and resilient agroecological approaches that will ensure Mother Earth can produce healthy food for generations to come.”

Dr Axel Schmidt, Agriculture Science & Research Advisor on Soil Health, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said the Soils Initiative for Africa, along with the 10-year African Fertilizer & Soil Health action plan, represents a pivotal step towards advancing sustainable landscapes and livelihoods.

“This initiative holds immense potential to spark a continent-wide movement focused on transforming degraded landscapes into socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable regions where communities can thrive. The pairing of soil health and fertilizer is a critical combination, as fertilizer alone cannot provide the much-needed benefits to both farmer livelihoods and landscapes. However, turning these national commitments into concrete results at scale hinges on local action.  It is critical that nations integrate the steps proposed in the 10-year action plan into their policies and provide support for their execution at the local level.¨

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