Africa's Agriculture

The June 9-13, 2006 Fertilizer Summit for African Heads of State and government that was held in the beautiful capital city of Abuja, Nigeria marked a major turning point in Africa's agriculture. The numerous numbers of agricultural scientists and development experts who turned up was an indication of real concern for a continent that is unable to feed itself, and something must be done about it.

That something must be done NOW. That was the echo that kept coming out of each speaker. The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, a son of the continent, addressed the Summit via satellite, so did former President of the United States of America , Jimmy Carter.

The Summit , which was hosted by Nigerian President Oleshugun Obasanjo, was graced by Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, and UN secretary General, Special envoy Jeffrey Sachs and other distinguished personalities, all of whom echoed the urgency for us to enhance the fertility of African soils.

For Amit Roy, President and Chief Executive Officer of IFDC ( International Fertilizer Development Center ) who were the main facilitator and in whose Board I sit, this was like a dream come true.

The fact that the African Union, NEPAD and African Development Bank were ready to take this on, meant that they have all appreciated that African soils are like an overdrawn current account where one keeps “withdrawing money without putting any back” This is a message Amit, himself from the already Green Revolution endowed Asia, has been preaching for a number of years now.

The Summit was also graced by Dr. Judith Roden, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, who were the main sponsor. For those of us who are in the field of agriculture and, are well aware of the vast investment Rockefeller Foundation has made in agricultural training, research and development in Africa ; this gesture sent a strong and positive message of support. It was the Foundation which financially sponsored the Green Revolution in Asia . Well, Africa is probably the next “child” now to be supported, and indeed expects her due share of support to be able to feed herself.

Let me, finally, pay tribute to a good friend, Dr. Akin Adesina of the Rockefeller Foundation in Nairobi who worked day and night to ensure success of the Summit and convinced both his President (of Nigeria ) and superiors at the Foundation including both immediate boss, that this was a cause worth supporting. Clearly, everybody was in an upbeat mood at this Summit . Except for a few unhappy souls, we all seemed to be singing the same hymns and the African professionals were saying: “yes, we too can do it”. Jeffrey Sach's presentation earned him a standing ovation.

You may not agree with everything Jeffrey Sachs says, but his style of presentation, the passion with which he delivers it leaves you feeling that you must act NOW!!

The heart of the matter is that African soils are tired. For goodness' sake, this is the continent which produced the first man/woman; not only that, we use the soil and extract nutrients without replacing any. Because soils are tired, they cannot support good crop yields, and they can not pass on much needed nutrients to promote human health.

Poor soils mean poor human nutrition. The Asian Green Revolution which led to an unprecedented multiplier effect in rice and wheat yields had to use chemical fertilizer. Nobody stops anyone from using organic manure. It would, however, be advisable to combine both organic and chemical fertilizer to achieve the desired yields and balance in the environment.

Those who worry too much about what some chemical use in agriculture will do to the environment should also worry about the many hungry people in Africa . For me, the most important aspects in the Summit resolution were:

•  Ensure fertilizer is accessible to all who need it including using subsidies for the poor, and make fertilizer a commodity without borders.

•  Explore ways of manufacturing fertilizer on a regional basis in Africa .

•  Try to achieve an African Green Revolution within this decade.

Our issue 11 pays tribute to the June 9-13 Abuja Africa Fertilizer Summit, whose theme was “Nourish the soils, feed the continent”. Please send in your comments.

Yours Sincerely,

Hon. Ruth Oniang'o, PhD
Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND

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