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Key fertiliser conference opens in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 13 – African governments have launched consultations to work out ways of availing affordable fertiliser to thousands of farmers as a way of boosting food production in the continent.

Finance and Agriculture Ministers from nine Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries on Friday met in Nairobi to deliberate on whether the continent needs to join forces to procure the commodity in bulk or undertake local manufacturing.

“Fertiliser production and consumption in Africa is very low compared with other regions of the world. This has resulted in low agricultural productivity and thus leading to most of our countries being food insecure,” observed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Uhuru Kenyatta.

African farmers apply an average of eight kilograms of fertiliser for a hectare of land compared to the global average of 140kg. This has caused soil to rapidly lose the nutrients that are essential for growing crops and protecting the environment.

The three-fold increase in world prices of the commodity and the existing gap between supply and demand impacts negatively on fertiliser consumption in the region, Mr Kenyatta added.

In Kenya, fertiliser prices went up from Sh1, 800 in early 2008 to Sh6, 500 for a 50-kg bag in a few months.

Mr Kenyatta however lauded the African Development Bank for supporting the African Fertiliser Financing Mechanism (AFFM) which is expected to facilitate the commodity’s procurement so as to meet the immediate needs of affordable prices for farmers.

The mechanism was borne out of the Abuja Declaration where Heads of State met and pledged to work together to address the continent’s soil fertility crisis by boosting the production and availability of fertilisers through the continent.

AFFM target to achieve at least a six-fold increase in fertiliser use which would see this increased to at least 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

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Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) President Dr Namanga Ngingo said the likely option for these countries in the short term would be to establish regional fertiliser procurement and distribution facilities to realise the economies of scale.

He expressed doubts that the continent would be able to put up a fertiliser factory in less than five years. He argued that the ESA countries would be able to save a minimum of 20 percent of the overall price of the imports if the countries procured the fertiliser together.

“Even if you had a new plant today, it would take time before it meets the region requirements so we need to increase the efficiency of imports of fertilisers,” Dr Ngingo added.

Currently, the ESA region requires about two million tonnes with the figure expected to grow to between four to five million tonnes in the next five years.

AGRA Vice President for Policy and Partnerships Akim Adesina restated that the only sustainable way of ensuring food security is for the government to support farmers by subsiding farm inputs.

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