Researchers Renew Call for Increased Fertilizer Use

African governments need to establish policies and infrastructure to increase fertilizer access and use, concluded a roundtable meeting between IFPRI and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), held in Johannesburg in July. Participants agreed that increasing the use of fertilizers is critical in expanding sustainable agricultural production in the region and is in line with the goals of the 2006 Abuja Declaration regarding the use of fertilizers to stimulate a “green revolution” in Africa.

A total of 23 participants attended the meeting, representing Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, and Nigeria. An introductory presentation on the progress made thus far in implementing the Abuja Declaration on Fertilizers concluded that while several regional economic communities, or RECs, have taken steps to establish successful regional fertilizer markets, several major challenges remain at both the regional and the country level. The most important of these are a persistent lack of proper infrastructure, particularly ports, weak or non-existent country-level regulations, poorly functioning subsidy programs, and regulations that vary from country to country within an REC. All of these problems lead to inefficient fertilizer supply chains and subsequently higher costs for farmers.

The meeting established several new courses of action to scale up efforts to meet the Abuja goals. One of the Abuja resolutions focused on increasing fertilizer use Africa south of the Sahara to 50kg/ha; last month’s meeting highlighted the need to revisit this target to take into account crop-specific needs and soil nutrient requirements throughout the region. In addition, adjusted targets should look beyond simply fertilizer use and acknowledge the importance of sustainable soil management, quality seeds, irrigation facilities, agricultural extension services, and soil nutrient testing and mapping. All of these practices together will go farther in advancing agricultural production than simply fertilizer alone.  

It was agreed that African governments need to invest more in agrodealer development in order to improve fertilizer distribution. Many African countries have a dearth of fertilizer suppliers, meaning that farmers often need to travel long distances in order to buy fertilizers. In addition, many countries do not provide financial services to fertilizer importers and agrodealers; this means higher costs and greater risk for dealers, which may discourage additional dealers from joining the market. Similarly, a lack of infrastructure such as ports and roads means higher transaction costs for both agrodealers and farmers, often making the price of fertilizer prohibitively high. The meeting highlighted the fact that the development of the fertilizer market and investment in agrodealers cannot be left solely to NGOs and private sector stakeholders; standardized, harmonized government regulation is needed to reduce the cost of fertilizer procurement at both the country and the regional level. In the original Abuja Declaration, recommendations for such regulation included the removal of taxes and tariffs on fertilizer and fertilizer raw materials. Government regulations also need to be able to address the development of effective quality control measures.

In addition, government fertilizer subsidy programs need to be better monitored and evaluated, as untargeted or improperly targeted subsidies have the potential to disrupt properly functioning markets and destroy incentives for private sector actors to engage in the fertilizer value chain.

Plans are currently underway for “Abuja II,” to be convened by the FAO and the AU. Participants expressed their support for this initiative and planned to hold further country-level roundtable meetings to share lessons learned, best practices, and remaining challenges to the implementation of the Abuja resolutions.

Written by: Sara Gustafson

Photo credit:Flickr: Stephen Morrison