Président de la Commission de l’Union Africaine (depuis le 1er. février 2008)
Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have traditionally cleared land, grown a few crops, and then moved on to clear more land, leaving the land fallow to regain its fertility. But population pressure now forces farmers to grow crop after crop, mining the soil of nutrients while giving nothing back.
Fertilizer use in Africa is less than 10% of that in Asia and South America and the food and poverty situation in Africa is worsening.
A strategy to make vital plant nutrients available to African farmers will be developed at the Africa Fertilizer Summit, to be held from 9-13 June 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria.
The Summit is being convened by NEPAD, with strong backing from the Rockefeller Foundation and other donors, and the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) will be the implementing agency.
Nigeria will host the Summit, which will be chaired by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee.
It will bring together African heads of state, ministers, and presidents ; international donor organisations ; private-sector firms ; farmers’ organisations ; and senior policy makers.
Delegates will work to build consensus around the key issues surrounding fertilizer use in Africa, and agree on bold actions to facilitate the access of millions of poor farmers to mineral fertilizers and other complementary inputs.
The Summit’s ultimate objective is to accelerate the access of poor farmers to fertilizer and complementary inputs, to raise farm production and achieve food security.
Other objectives are to :
Affirm the critical importance of fertilizer and complementary inputs for the rapid, sustainable, and pro-poor growth in agricultural productivity in Africa.
Review the use of fertilizer in African agriculture and identify the main constraints that poor farmers face in accessing fertilizer. Farmers will share personal perspectives on these issues.
Assess innovative approaches to build infrastructure for markets that supply agricultural inputs to the rural poor.
The Summit offers African leaders an opportunity to raise international awareness of the plight of African farmers, and of the potential of fertilizers to improve their conditions.
This can be pursued through creating enabling environments for actionable programs to establish fertilizer markets, led by the private sector, to ensure food security and economic growth.
The challenge that now faces African policymakers is to improve the functioning of rural markets and lower the transaction costs that the rural poor face in accessing agricultural inputs, including fertilizer. Policies that concentrate on economic development should also be pro-poor, to ensure market participation by resource-poor farmers.
Some frequently asked questions about fertilizers What are fertilizers ?
Think of fertilizers as plant food. Fertilizers are combinations of the nutrients that plants must have to grow, in a form they can use. The main nutrients in fertilizers are three essential elements : nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. About 20 secondary or “trace” minerals such as copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and boron are also necessary for normal plant growth. People require the same nutrients.
These plant nutrients can be supplied by organic fertilizers, such as plant residues or livestock manure, or mineral fertilizers, which are chemically processed to meet crop needs.
All plant nutrients whether in organic or mineral fertilizers are the same, but mineral fertilizers have the advantage of concentration, and nutrients can be blended to meet specifications. Thus, mineral fertilizers can be better “targeted” to meet the nutritional needs of specific plants and soils.
Why do we need fertilizers ?
As plants grow, they absorb and deplete or “mine” nutrients from the soil. Farmers harvest those same nutrients when they harvest crops. Fertilizers, whether mineral or organic, nourish the soil by returning essential mineral nutrients.
If a soil lacks or has insufficient amounts of these minerals, they must be added as fertilizers, or production will stagnate or cease.
Farmers grew crops for thousands of years without fertilizers. Why do we need them now ?
Because the population is larger and growing more and more rapidly while the land available for farming is shrinking. Before 1900, the global population was small enough that farmers could work the land until it was no longer productive, and then shift to another plot of land. Today, agricultural land is limited and it is no longer acceptable to shift crops onto other land.
To meet the growing demand for food on limited land, farmers have turned to improved, high-yielding crops. These high-yielding crops require more nutrients to produce more food per unit of land.
This strategy nearly tripled worldwide average yields for maize, rice and wheat between 1950 and 2000.
Before such modern farming practices, every region of the globe was subject to famines when harvests were bad. Africa, the only region that has been unable to widely adopt modern agricultural technologies, is the only region where famines remain widespread and frequent.
How have fertilizers benefited the world ?
About half of the world’s population is alive today because of increased food production fueled by mineral fertilizers.
The Green Revolution-the dramatic increases in food production in Asia and Latin America - was achieved through higher yields, made possible through improved seeds and inputs, especially mineral fertilizers.
The Green Revolution is credited with feeding more than 1 billion people in Asia alone. The far lower increases in food production in Africa have been mostly through bringing marginal land into production.
Why the focus on fertilizer ? We all know there are no silver bullets for development in Africa.
It will take more than fertilizer to solve Africa’s agricultural shortfalls. But fertilizer, along with organic matter, is needed now to revitalise African soils. Until Africa’s soil fertility crisis is addressed, it will be impossible for African farmers to substantially increase agricultural production, reduce hunger and begin generating the income needed to lift millions of people out of poverty.
Couldn’t the world be fed using organic fertilizers ?
Organic farming is less efficient and lower yielding than farming with mineral fertilizers, especially in Africa. This is partly because mineral fertilizers deliver far more essential nutrients per unit weight than does organic matter. Also, Africa’s depleted soils can no longer deliver enough organic matter to maintain soil health.
Mineral fertilizers are the only practical way to provide enough plant nutrients to feed Africa and provide organic matter to restore Africa’s nutrient-depleted soils. Also, it is difficult to guarantee the optimal balance among, or quantity of, vital crop nutrients using only organic sources.
Mineral fertilizers are generally highly cost effective, but require an up-front investment that may be difficult for small farmers without credit.
Ideally, mineral fertilizers should be used together with organic fertilizers, which improve soil structure and the soil’s water-holding capacity. Combined use may reduce the total cost of improving soil fertility. The precision that manufactured mineral fertilizers offer helps overcome the limitations of organic fertilizer.
At a time when the demand for organic produce in developed countries is skyrocketing, why emphasise fertilizer use in Africa ? Won’t this just keep African farmers out of the organic market ?
NEPAD’s first priority is to eradicate poverty in Africa. In Africa today, one-third of the population is hungry.
Organic farming alone cannot solve this dilemma, there is simply not enough organic material available. Nor do organics necessarily deliver the nutrients needed for a particular crop and soil type.
Looking toward the future, organic farming alone would not be able to achieve the growth in agriculture that will be needed to meet the expected growth in the African population : from 850 million today to 1.8 billion people in 2050. There are not enough organic sources of fertilizer to supply all of African agriculture.
African farmers could use manufactured fertilizers in precise amounts and combinations to meet the needs of their soils and crops. Given the extremely depleted state of Africa’s soils - 46% of the continent is undergoing desertification - African farmers desperately need fertilizers that can bring life back to the continent’s soil.
Of course, organic farming is an alternative for farmers in Africa who choose it, and may allow some farmers to develop produce for export. But the key to ending hunger in Africa is increasing yield and diversity of locally and regionally produced goods.
Isn’t it true that fertilizers can be environmentally detrimental ?
Poor management of plant nutrients - whether as organic amendments or mineral fertilizers - can mean loss of some nutrients to the environment where they can upset the balance of natural ecosystems. But if a farmer uses appropriate agricultural practices, the crop will absorb most applied fertilizer.
Using too few crop nutrients can also have devastating environmental effects. In the 1930s - before mineral fertilizers were widely used - nutrient depletion was widespread on many agricultural lands in North America. The result was the “Dust Bowl” era, with its extensive wind erosion and massive dust storms.
Africa today faces a soil fertility crisis. African soils are losing an estimated US$4 billion worth of soil nutrients yearly. Three-fourth of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is plagued by severe nutrient depletion, and 46% of the African continent suffers from desertification. African farmers desperately need mineral fertilizers to bring life back to the depleted soils, and to feed the continent.
And if production on existing farm land is not intensified, African farmers will continue to bring marginal land into production - a further threat to what remains of Africa’s precious wildlife and forests.
Source : nepad news