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What opportunities exist to improve Africa’s fertilizer market, and what are some examples of successful interventions?

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What opportunities exist to improve Africa’s fertilizer market, and what are some examples of successful interventions?
Jones Govereh
What opportunities exist to improve Africa's fertilizer markets?

Opportunities for Africa’s fertiliser markets

  1. Fastest growing potential demand
    1. Increasing demand for food and feed
      1. Population growth >2.5%p.a
      2. Increasing living standards
    2. Expansion of irrigated agriculture
    3. Expansion of mining activities creating spin-offs
  2. Liberalization of imports/distribution and price decontrol (Kenya)
    1. Increasing supply capacity
    2. Improved access in terms of price, time, place, quality and quantity
  3. New discoveries of oil and gas and other feedstock (Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon)
    1. Enable large scale investments in greenfield operations
    2. Export opportunities for surplus
  4. Regional Free Trade Areas (ECOWAS, EAC, SADC and COMESA)
    1. Enables regional operations
    2. Attracts huge and long run capital investments
  5. Public-Private Joint ventures in production and operation of ports (Gabon)
    1. Moving away from state ownership
    2. Enabling performance related operations
  6. Smart subsidies (Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe)
    1. Offer targeted social support to poor farmers to kick-start market development
    2. Market friendly
    3. Strengthen last-mile operations
  7. Depletion of natural resource base
    1. Declining per capita arable land
    2. Declining organic material and nutrient reserves in soils
Demba's picture
Sound mix of approaches... A must

Worth mentioning that as we move into the SDGs following timid results from the MDGs, increasing partnership expectation is meant to fuelling better resource allocation, and sound domestic resources mobilization in Africa... Each and every other area above highlighted would require specific considerations towards a comprehensive action plan. 

Free Trade Areas

It will be interesting to see how the new TFTA could affect both production and movement of fertilizer within Africa as in theory, at least some of the infrastructure constraints will be addressed to facilitate cross-border trade. 

Demba's picture
Joining the dots across the SDGs

Very good point, trade and non trade barriers removal are conditional to efficiency and effectiveness... a great deal of regional dialogue initiative can be sought throughout multilateral development banks, economic and political institutions in the region... Being all part of this SDGs momentum to take place from early 2016 forward, might be a great framework approach worth considering!

Until more dialogue series are launched to harmonize various operational frameworks, expenditures will not meet expectations on Africa’s fertilizer market development...



Jones Govereh
Role of TFTA

While political will is necessary to get the TFTA to work, ultimately the profit incentives is what will drive the business community to move raw materials and final products across borders. Unfortunately, the business councils are not the key drivers of these initiatives.

Demba's picture
Communication is key on both fronts

As earlier covered in previous topics, the business circles fragmentation in SSA Africa itself is a challenge to which proper targeting can yield much of the expectations placed on TFTA overall... Political instability in the most needed areas of SSA makes political will a vague notion unless addressed from regional political and economic perspectives... African Union, to name the most underpinning one, still lately working to marketing its 2063 Vision Plan...

Albeit in a much longer term than usual, complimentary agenda items devised in between such a long term "vision" can help yield substantial outcome... An opportunity to consider joint Agenda action items on specific areas of concerns inherent to TFTA...



Proper targeting of policies is an interesting point.  There is also a need to focus on medium and long-term goals in terms of market creation and infrastructure rather than purely short-term gains through subsidies or taxes.  These goals must be balanced and impacts well understood across regions with very different allocations of raw materials and resources.  

Demba's picture

Indeed Allen, following a throughful planning of such targeting (short, medium and long term) it's possible to determine which given stage requires what type of intervention and therefore allocating resources accordingly, one stage after the other. But even then we should have in place such an internal monitoring mechanism with oversight capability needed to operate in full compliance with the TOR.


There is clear appetite for reforms among most governments in Africa.  There is the realization that current  fertilizer interventions are doing de-service to the agriculture sector. There is growing concern that the high level of public expenditures on fertilizers is unsustainable.  The political rhetoric would suggest that governments are seeking for alternative models in support of increased use and usage of fertilizers among smallholder famers.  There is a movement towards focusing on introducing private sector driven fertilizer programs.  Many of these models have yet to prove  themselves- eg electronic voucher  as a means to accessing fertilizer subsidies- very promising in may counties. Yet there are still monumental challenges linked to connectivity. There are also promising new technologies, including those associated with biotic fertilizers, among others . 

Mike Murphy

There is significant promise in policies focused on improving transparency and monitoring of existing programs- reform can be challenging, but it is hard to argue against better targeting. I think an important related issue is the integration of fertilizer programs with extension interventions. To realize the full benefits of fertilizers, we have to ensure that smallholders are getting the correct information on timing and best practices for application. Governments need to ensure that fertilizer programs are effectively coordinated with extension activities- a patchwork approach will always yield sub-optimal results.

Demba's picture
Availability doesn't necessarily mean affordability

The above might sum up the underlying rationale of the lost decades of development...No wonder such decades of failed approaches have yet gone by unaddressed, again, until lately, in many related areas of Agricultural development... A disservice it is to SSA overall and the many corrective attempts to jugulate agricultural growth without regards to empowering those actors (farmers & non farmers actorsmeant to carry on the challenge...

Today we're faced with the choice to whether engage with or without the whole array of actors of our African fertilizer market... Limited attempts yet at its infancy, have proven domestic resource mobilization a valid recourse... Institutional backing would yield much if in response to a private sector led demand, not the other way around as known to most institutional donors with an already-made Agenda waiting to being unfolded...

At least in the resource provision to allow diversified assets to crowding in, institutional donors can lead the way, but not all the way to strategy design, outreach, communication and implementation thereof... Backing yes, but not impersonation...



Demba's picture
Adapting the message to sociological better way!

First of, in my early sophomore interactions in 1989 with farmers in Longandeme (a Village in Kaolack by Gossas-Senegal-) trying to make sense of the need for fertilizer use in their smallholder’s community lands due to decreasing soil nutrients, the very few of those farmers I interacted on that wouldn’t even admit flat, the idea of an “impoverished” land of theirs. Pointing at me that they are not nomads, they’re born and raised right there in the Village. An emotional bond ties them to the land of their ancesters, to the point where applying fertilizers could not just simply be weighed from an economic value standpoint… it takes time to let go, grasp the discernment and admit evidence with the stigma of an “impoverished” land associated with an equally impoverished ancestral land

But Clearly then across similar African rural contexts, there is an ever increasing recognition that the decreasing yields and impoverishment of those farmers’ lands has come to a point of self-realization whereby it’s easier to address the many challenges in a more culturally competent manner, now more than ever before.

At least in the case of Senegal, thanks to urbanization, media prevalence and mobility, it’s understood that use of fertilizer is nowadays predicated and thus contingent upon the following:

1-Inherently low quality of indigenous soils makes it a must to complement soil nutrients for the harvest of "tomorrow",

2-Need for more “appropriate” fertilizers for local soils (former President Wade behind a nationwide joke made out of his one-time(?) ordering of a maize type for fodder instead of grain, leading to a national joke campaign over the mistakenly ordered maize variety…),

3-Fertilizers’Ad campaigns promoting improved crop varieties contending to make “more effective” use of fertilizer (regardless of the type, brand and origin) which, coupled with adversely derived knowledge over limitations of such, led to increased scrutiny over the idea itself,

4-Increased awareness that, like any other practice, farming is a field of specialization in itself and that learning to improving farming practices associated with fertilizer application makes sense;

5-Same way we experience diversity in our ethnological fabric in Senegal, such diversity has served to substantiate the reasoning behind varying fertilizer application according to rainfall sequence and soil' decreasing yields, as well as reducing the risk associated with fertilizer application through seasonal weather forecasting and or improved water control techniques for adaptation and mitigation purposes.

All the more of which our local ethnographic imageries allow in comparing, illustrating and devising various messages all relevant to the agricultural world…Interesting isn’t it?

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