In­no­va­tive fer­tilis­ers, hope for Africa’s Green Revo­lu­tion

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/feature - Fea­ture Bu­sani Bafana

PHILLIP Tshuma is a happy farmer. De­spite one of the worst droughts ever to hit his coun­try, Zim­babwe, his maize and small grains har­vests this year are 50 per­cent more than they were in 2015, thanks to mi­cro­dos­ing, the tar­geted ap­pli­ca­tion of small quan­ti­ties of fer­til­izer in a field. Us­ing the mi­cro-dos­ing method, farm­ers ap­ply about 8 to 10kg of ni­tro­gen fer­til­izer per hectare, ap­prox­i­mately a fifth of the rec­om­mended ap­pli­ca­tion rates.

Last sea­son, Mr Tshuma made about $350 in prof­its from his har­vests, a de­cent amount. He plans to spend a third of that on ni­tro­gen fer­til­izer for use in the next sea­son.

If things go as an­tic­i­pated, he will make more profit each sea­son from his farm in the Hwange Dis­trict in south­ern Zim­babwe. It was only a decade ago that African lead­ers adopted, at a spe­cial sum­mit in Abuja, Nige­ria, a 12-point res­o­lu­tion on the use of fer­til­izer as part of ef­forts to achieve an African “Green Revo­lu­tion.”

They ac­knowl­edged that in­or­ganic fer­til­izer alone could not lift agri­cul­tural out­put, and re­quested coun­tries to com­mit to in­creas­ing fer­til­izer use from an av­er­age of 8kg of fer­til­izer per hectare in 2005 to 50kg per hectare by 2015.

Both or­ganic and in­or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers pro­vide plants with the nu­tri­ents they need to grow healthy and strong. Or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers con­tain only plant— or an­i­mal­based ma­te­ri­als, such as ma­nures, leaves, and compost that are ei­ther by-prod­ucts or end prod­ucts of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring pro­cesses.

In­or­ganic fer­til­izer, also re­ferred to as syn­thetic fer­til­izer, is man­u­fac­tured ar­ti­fi­cially and con­tains syn­thetic chem­i­cals.

Or­ganic fer­til­izer re­leases nu­tri­ents only when the soil is warm and moist, while in­or­ganic fer­til­izer pro­vides this nu­tri­tion in plant-ready form im­me­di­ately.

With a Green Revo­lu­tion, Africa would be fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Asia and Latin Amer­ica, where ef­fec­tive poli­cies, new farm­ing meth­ods, im­proved in­puts and high-yield seed va­ri­eties have im­proved har­vests and re­duced poverty.

Al­though no coun­try has met the tar­get for 2015, Ms Rhoda Peace Tu­musi­ime, the African Union com­mis­sioner for ru­ral econ­omy and agri­cul­ture, says there is no need to de­spair and that coun­tries should in­stead con­tinue to in­vest in im­prov­ing ac­cess to fer­til­izer for small­holder farm­ers.

Richard Mkan­dawire, the vice pres­i­dent of the African Fer­til­izer and Agribusi­ness Part­ner­ship (AFAP) — an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes in­vest­ment in com­mer­cial fer­til­iz­ers in Africa — says that de­spite fail­ing to meet the tar­get, some coun­tries made sig­nif­i­cant progress in in­creas­ing their use of fer­til­izer.

A World Bank re­port notes that be­tween 2005 and 2015, Ethiopia recorded the high­est pro­por­tional in­crease of fer­til­izer use per hectare, from 11kg to 24kg. Within the same pe­riod, Ghana’s fer­til­izer use in­creased from 20kg to 35kg per hectare and Kenya’s from 33kg to 44kg.

As a re­sult of the in­crease in fer­til­izer us­age over the 10-year pe­riod, the coun­tries recorded growth in farm yields and in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor gen­er­ally, with Ghana notch­ing a 4.6 per­cent growth in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Ghana Sta­tis­ti­cal Ser­vice.

In Kenya there was a 56 per­cent in­crease in small­holder fer­til­izer use, and maize yields in­creased by 18 per­cent be­tween 1997 and 2007, ac­cord­ing to data from a na­tion­wide house­hold sur­vey.

In March 2016, Mr Amit Roy, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Fer­til­izer De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre, told the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO)’s re­gional con­fer­ence for Africa in Côte d’Ivoire that while Africa had not achieved the fer­til­izer use tar­gets set un­der the Abuja Dec­la­ra­tion, it was on course to reach at an av­er­age of at least 17kg per hectare by 2018.

Al­though this will still rep­re­sent a mod­est im­prove­ment, it will be dou­ble what it used to be when the dec­la­ra­tion was made.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Fer­til­izer In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, a global trad­ing body rep­re­sent­ing over 500 fer­til­izer pro­duc­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, the av­er­age fer­til­izer use in many coun­tries in Africa to­day is still as low as 12kg per hectare, com­pared to Asian coun­tries like Malaysia, where us­age av­er­ages 1,570kg per hectare, Hong Kong (1,297kg per hectare) and Bangladesh (278kg per hectare).

Nev­er­the­less, fer­til­izer de­mand in Africa has been ris­ing since 2008, par­tic­u­larly in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, where us­age has in­creased by 130 per­cent, says the In­ter­na­tional Fer­til­izer De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre, a group that seeks to in­crease agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity by pro­mot­ing crop nu­tri­tion and agribusi­ness skills.

Mr Roy reck­ons fer­til­izer de­mand will reach seven mil­lion met­ric tonnes by 2018, al­though this fig­ure will rep­re­sent a mere two per­cent of global con­sump­tion. Brazil, China, In­dia, and the US drive global fer­til­izer con­sump­tion col­lec­tively, ac­count­ing for 55 per­cent of global de­mand.

The ev­i­dence that mi­cro-dos­ing could be a break­through method in in­creas­ing fer­til­izer use in Africa is demon­strated by Mr Tshuma, who is one of the 170,000 house­holds in Zim­babwe giv­ing it a try.

His ce­real pro­duc­tion, which has since dou­bled, has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved his fam­ily’s food se­cu­rity.

By pro­mot­ing mi­cro-dos­ing, Zim­babwe is al­ready sav­ing $7 mil­lion in food im­ports an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Crops Re­search In­sti­tute for the Semi-Arid Trop­ics (ICRISAT).

Mi­cro-dos­ing is af­ford­able and, when adopted by small­holder farm­ers, en­hances fer­til­izer use, says ICRISAT, ad­ding that the re­turns on in­vest­ment are still higher than be­fore.

Mr Tshuma main­tains that the small amounts of fer­til­izer he uses in mi­cro-dos­ing yield big­ger re­turns with­out much money. He would need to spend over $300 per sea­son on fer­til­izer alone if he ap­plied the 50kg per hectare that African lead­ers set as a thresh­old.

In Zim­babwe, ICRISAT used crop mod­els to study the cost of mi­cro-dos­ing and how the prac­tice works. The study found that, con­trary to con­ven­tional wis­dom, even small amounts of fer­til­izer can in­crease yields sig­nif­i­cantly.

Us­ing mi­cro-dos­ing, farm­ers ap­ply about 8kg to 10kg of ni­tro­gen per hectare, ap­prox­i­mately a fifth of the rec­om­mended ap­pli­ca­tion rates.

Mr Martin Moyo, a scientist at ICRISAT, says that de­spite ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits, not many Zim­bab­wean small­holder farm­ers prac­tise mi­cro-dos­ing due to lack of knowl­edge, as well as dif­fi­cul­ties with avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity.

There are also cul­tural and tra­di­tional be­liefs that dis­cour­age farm­ers from the prac­tice, such as the be­lief that fer­til­iz­ers “burn” crops.

A de­cline in soil fer­til­ity re­sult­ing from monocrop­ping, de­graded soils and other fac­tors, of­ten blamed for the drop in crop yields across Africa, ought to en­cour­age African small­holder farm­ers to use fer­til­iz­ers.

Fer­til­izer use sup­port soil qual­ity and also helps mit­i­gate the ef­fects of soil ero­sion and nu­tri­ent de­ple­tion.

A 2015 FAO re­port ti­tled The Sta­tus of the World’s Soil Re­sources urges coun­tries to en­cour­age farm­ers to re­turn crop residues and other or­ganic ma­te­rial to the soil, em­ploy crop ro­ta­tion with ni­tro­gen-fix­ing crops and care­fully use or­ganic and min­eral fer­til­iz­ers.

“Fer­til­izer is key to Africa’s food se­cu­rity and we need to keep push­ing pri­vate-sec­tor in­volve­ment in its de­vel­op­ment,” said Ms Tu­musi­ime.

To boost agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity, African coun­tries must em­bark on mech­a­nised agri­cul­ture and in­crease fer­til­izer use, says Grace Akello, Uganda’s am­bas­sador to Italy and also rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the FAO and the UN World Food Pro­gramme, ad­ding, “We have to raise pro­duc­tiv­ity of our agri­cul­ture by im­prov­ing the health of our soils and in­crease fer­til­izer use be­cause we are aware of the poor con­di­tions of soils in many parts of Africa.”

There is a need for Africa to ac­cel­er­ate sus­tain­able soil man­age­ment prac­tices and cap­i­talise on the Africa Fer­til­izer Fi­nan­cial Mech­a­nism set up by the AU at its Africa Fer­til­izer Sum­mit in 2006 to pro­mote fer­til­izer use, ad­vises Mr Roy.

Last July, a meet­ing or­gan­ised by AFAP and the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute (IFPRI), a global agri­cul­tural re­search cen­tre, to re­view progress on fer­til­izer use in the re­gion con­cluded that while sev­eral re­gional eco­nomic com­mu­ni­ties have es­tab­lished suc­cess­ful re­gional fer­til­izer mar­kets, they still face poor in­fra­struc­ture and dis­tri­bu­tion net­works, as well as prob­lems with stor­age and lo­cal blend­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Small­holder farm­ers will in­crease their fer­til­izer use if they can get af­ford­able ac­cess, said Mr Mkan­dawire. “Lim­ited fer­til­izer ac­cess leads to pro­hib­i­tively high costs, re­sult­ing in small­holder farm­ers us­ing less or not at all. This ul­ti­mately leads to the low-level pro­duc­tiv­ity trap. In such a trap, con­straints such as lack of fer­til­izer in­vest­ment in­cen­tives [and a] stag­nant ru­ral econ­omy re­in­force each other,” Mr Mkan­dawire said.

Most small­holder farm­ers are al­ready stuck in a low soil fer­til­ity — poverty trap, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for them to af­ford in­puts needed to in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity and end hunger, Mr Mkan­dawire ex­plains. Ex­perts agree that mi­cro­dos­ing, in­creased fer­til­izer use, pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment, im­proved ac­cess to credit, re­duc­tion in im­port costs, smart sub­sidy pro­grammes and ac­cel­er­ated sus­tain­able soil prac­tices will help Africa re­alise its Green Revo­lu­tion dream. The chal­lenge is for coun­tries to work with the ex­perts and fol­low through.

*Orig­i­nally pub­lished by Africa Re­newal Ac­cred­i­ta­tion The ac­cred­i­ta­tion pe­riod was from 1995 when ques­tion pa­pers would be set in Zim­babwe and copies would be sent to Cam­bridge for com­ments and dur­ing this pe­riod we could now de­fend our own po­si­tions if there were any neg­a­tive com­ments from them.

In the two-year pe­riod be­tween 1997 and 1999, com­ments, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, be­came fewer and fewer and by Au­gust 1999 Cam­bridge weaned off the ex­am­i­na­tions branch.

We had com­pleted our ac­cred­i­ta­tion pe­riod and were de­clared to­tally in­de­pen­dent and at par with Cam­bridge in Item Set­ting, Train­ing of mark­ers, Mark­ing and Grad­ing.

Cer­tifi­cates con­tin­ued be­ing pro­duced in Cam­bridge for se­cu­rity rea­sons. Ad­vanced Level The Ad­vanced level was lo­calised from Cam­bridge in a much shorter time than the Or­di­nary Level mostly be­cause the lo­cal­i­sa­tion process was now known.

This was af­ter the birth of the Zim­babwe School Ex­am­i­na­tions Coun­cil un­der an

Mrs Sim­nai and Mr Phillip Tshuma, small­holder farm­ers from Hwange, Zim­babwe, show off their sorghum crop grown through mi­cro-dos­ing

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