African leaders meet in Abuja to tackle food penury

African leaders, farmers and heads of international development agencies will meet in Lagos on Friday hoping to bring a new lease of life to the continent’s degraded soil and so tackle food shortages affecting over 200-million Africans.

The African Fertiliser Summit, an initiative of the African Union (AU), is sponsored by more than a dozen international organisations and donor agencies, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Bank, the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the Rockefeller Foundation, organisers said.

African heads of state have developed a Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) as a framework for agricultural growth, food security and rural development.

The CAADP has set a goal of 6% annual growth in agricultural production to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger afflicting more that 200-million Africans by 2015, the organisers said in a statement.

The summit is being organised to increase awareness on the role that fertiliser could play in stimulating sustainable pro-poor productivity growth in African agriculture and to discuss increased and efficient use of fertiliser by African small farmers.

Low soil fertility is one of the key causes of Africa’s persistent food problems.

Farmers in sub-Sahara Africa use an average of only 8kg of fertiliser per hectare yearly, as opposed to between 100 and 200kg per hectare in other regions, an expert document said.

Farmers south of the Sahara apply less than 2% of all fertiliser used worldwide, a situation which has led average farm yields to stagnate at about one tonne per hectare over the past 30 years while hunger and malnutrition have risen dramatically.

It is estimated that 50 000ha of forest and 60 000ha of Africa’s grasslands are lost to agriculture every year as a result of soil degradation.

“One of the basic problems of farmers is the lack of fertiliser and inability to afford it when it is available. So, this summit is to awaken African policy makers to encourage the use of fertilisers by farmers as a top priority,” said Taye Ajakaye, spokesperson of the Nigerian federal Agriculture ministry.

The theme of the summit, which runs from June 9 to 13 is “Nourish the soil, feed the continent.”

At least three-quarters of African farmland south of the Sahara is plagued by severe degradation, creating perpetual low farm yields across the continent, organisers said in an statement.

Weak manufacturing capacity, poor distribution mechanisms and the high cost of fertiliser are major barriers to fertiliser use on the continent.

For example, in spite of government subsidies, a bag of fertiliser is sold to farmers in Nigeria for about 1 700 naira ($13 dollars), an amount still considered by most farmers as high.

“A tonne of fertiliser that would cost $150 in the United States can cost four times that rate in landlocked African countries”, an expert said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, AU chairperson Denis Sassou-Nguesso, AU Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, IFAD president Lennart Bage, FAO director general Jacques Diouf and director general of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture Peter Hartmann, are expected to attend the summit.

Others include African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka and Rockerfeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, organisers said.

The participants are expected to devise an action plan to end Africa’s soil fertility crisis, build a consensus around fertiliser use in Africa and accelerate access for millions of poor farmers to the soil enhancement product.

The meeting will open on Friday with a two-day technical session, followed by a ministerial meeting on June 12 after which African heads of state will meet on Tuesday. - AFP

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