Africa’s lack of access to affordable fertilizer over the years has resulted in various disadvantages for its farmers and economy, especially as others have seen advances in the agricultural industry. (Retweet this!) In 2006, Africa signed the Abuja Declaration at a Nigerian Fertilizer Summit, planning to increase fertilizer use in Africa from 8 kg per hectare to 50 kg per hectare by 2015. In 2016, they found that very few African countries had reached the 50 kg per hectare goal.
Africa—which supplies two-thirds of the world’s supply of cocoa beans and much of its yams, coffee beans, and cassava—has struggled to modernize its agricultural practices for years, especially when it comes to fertilizer use.
According to 2016 research, smallholder farmers in South Africa do not apply enough fertilizer to their crops due to high costs, poor access, and a lack of knowledge about fertilizer. Nancy Khorommbi, an agricultural dealer in Sibasa, South Africa, states that many of her customers know neither what fertilizer is nor how to apply it.
Yet according to a 2019 report by the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership, fertilizer use is expected to increase. In 2017, Africa consumed seven metric tons of fertilizer.
Sub-Sahara Africa fertilizer demand is expected to increase five percent annually, and its average fertilizer application is expected to increase from 16-17 kg per hectare to 20 kg per hectare by 2020. This still, however, does not meet the 50 kg per hectare goal set forth in 2006.
Africa’s Access to Fertilizer
One problem African farmers face is the existence of fertilizer subsidies. The government buys $1 billion worth of fertilizer but makes it difficult for farmers to obtain it. According to farmer Anesi Chishiko, inorganic fertilizer is too costly, and only “clever people” know how to get fertilizer subsidies. Thus, despite the government’s spending on fertilizer, African farmers still lack access to affordable fertilizer.
Fertilizer is an essential element in crop cultivation. While soil already contains essential nutrients—such as phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, and potassium—these nutrients are soaked up by crops, reducing the soil to infertile land.
In order to replenish the soil and plant more crops that will grow to be healthy and nutritious, farmers must add fertilizer to their routine. While there are organic fertilizer solutions, such as composting and planting nitrogen fixers, inorganic fertilizer is essential in complementing organic fertilizer nutrients.
African farmers are largely uneducated on the subject of fertilizer use—but this is shifting. The African Green Revolution Forum, established in 2010, provides essential education and tools for those in the agricultural field. In addition, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have sprouted all over Africa in an attempt to help smallholder farmers.
The Power of SMEs
According to the 2019 African Agricultural Status Report (AASR), 64 percent of food consumed in Africa is handled by SMEs.
SMEs, which are often female-led, provide information, transportation, and essential tools— such as seeds, fertilizers, equipment, and pesticides—to smallholder farms. Their role in the agricultural industry is finally connecting these farmers to commercial markets, boosting employment rates and rural incomes.
SMEs purchase directly from smallholder farmers and then process, package, and sell their products to urban and rural consumers.
While SMEs are changing the agricultural landscape in Africa, there are obstacles preventing them from progressing further. Competing with imported goods, which are much cheaper, is difficult when equipment and energy costs are so high; there is a lack of adequate infrastructure, roads, wholesale markets, and mobile phone connectivity; and there are outdated laws and regulations.
With a few policy tweaks, however, the AASR believes SMEs could thrive—and so could Africa’s agricultural industry. The AASR has cited three policy changes that could benefit SMEs:
- Public Investment in Infrastructure: building wholesale markets and roads and improving broadband coverage.
- Policies and Regulations Reducing Transaction Costs: reducing the cost of fertilizer and seeds and levying taxes on primary inputs.
- Implementing and Enforcing Policies that Protect SMEs: protecting farmers’ investments, increasing the use of seed and fertilizer, and protecting consumers.
Improving Africa’s access to fertilizer, however, is only part of the solution. Even in America, where farmers are educated on fertilizer use and there are regulations in place for how much fertilizer a field of soil can take, farmers misuse this essential product. In fact, according to a 2005 experiment, the overuse of fertilizer on crops has produced exponential amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, in our atmosphere.
Only about 50 percent of nitrogen added to soil is absorbed by crops; the other 50 percent is absorbed by microbes in the soil, which belch nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
xVital, xVirity’s salt-free fertilizer, is easily absorbed by plants’ roots due to its liquid form. Thus, less nitrogen is wasted and converted to nitrous oxide. Furthermore, our online ratio calculator allows you to adjust the ratio of fertilizer to water, perfectly complementing your unique planting regimen and eliminating the need to add excess fertilizer to your crops. Invest in xVirity today to sustainably cultivate your crops.