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  • World - Africa
  • Updated: May 10, 2024

African leaders draw up major endorsement towards revival of exhausted soil

African leaders draw up major endorsement towards revival of

African Heads of State and Government have concluded the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit where they endorsed the Nairobi Declaration on Fertilizer and Soil Health, underscoring the crucial commitments to revive the nutritional balance of the continent's exhausted soils.

The Nairobi Declaration encapsulated the key discussions among African leaders, with a focus on fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships and investments to drive policies, finance, research and development, markets, and capacity building for fertilizer and sustainable soil health management across Africa

Notably, thirteen commitments were made;

- To triple domestic production and distribution of certified quality organic and inorganic fertilizers by 2034 to improve access and affordability for smallholder farmers.

- Make available by 2034, to at least 70% of smallholder farmers on the continent, targeted agronomic recommendations for specific crops, soils, and climatic conditions to ensure greater efficiency and sustainable use of fertilizers

Support efforts of natural gas producing Member States in fertilizer production to increase their production and ensure availability at stable prices.

- Fully operationalize the Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM) to improve production, procurement, and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilizers, and soil health interventions

The AU Commission to mobilize financial and technical resources to execute these commitments in close cooperation with the various existing climate funds.

- Formulating and implementing policies and regulations to create a conducive environment for fertilizer and soil health interventions.

- Developing and promoting systemic national capacity building for locally relevant fertilizer and soil health management practices and technologies

- Developing and promoting systemic national capacity building for locally relevant fertilizer and soil health management practices and technologies.

- Promoting African solidarity through knowledge sharing, training, development, and transfer programs for best practices in soil fertility and soil health

- Ensuring that at least 70% of small holder farmers have access to quality extension and advisory services on fertilizer and soil health both from public and private extension systems.

- At least 70% of small holder farmers have access to quality extension and advisory services on fertilizer and soil health both from public and private extension systems

- Domesticate the recommendations in this Declaration into National Agricultural Investment Plans for implementation.

- Ministers of Finance to mobilize and allocate adequate resources for the implementation of the recommendations in this Declaration. The declaration also outlined the specific actions to achieve the envisioned outcomes 

- Additionally, the AFSH Summit endorsed a 10-year Action Plan for Fertilizer and Soil Health, the Africa Financing Mechanism (AFFM) for the Action Plan, and the Soil Initiative for Africa framework, all of which represent ambitious long-term efforts to systematically enhance the health and productivity of Africa’s soils.

The Summit from the 7th- 9th May 2024 was convened under the theme, Listen to the Land. Participants explored the current condition of Africa’s soils in a bid to implement urgent and appropriate restorative measures. The event gathered over 4,000 participants, including 57 ministers of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs other government leaders, scientists, private sector representatives, heads of development organizations, civil society leaders, and leaders of farmer organizations, who engaged in discussions, partnerships and commitments aimed at rapidly restoring the nutritional value of the continent’s agricultural soils.

Throughout the three-day summit, it was emphasized that years of excessive use without adequate replenishment had resulted in severe depletion of the continent's soils, hampering their capacity to sustain optimal crop yields. 

H.E. Dr. William Ruto, President of Kenya, welcomed the summit's timeliness, coinciding with the launch of his government's new framework for sustainable soil management, which will guide investments and efforts to improve the health and resilience of the country's soil. “60 % of the world's uncultivated arable land is in Africa, we possess the largest potential for food production and become a global food basket. Prioritizing investments in nitrogen fertilizer production facilities is essential. Secondly, developing mechanisms for real time tracking of fertilizer market trends to ensure timely availability is crucial. Additionally, we need sustainable strategies to make fertilizers more affordable and accessible. Enhancing last-mile logistics for fertilizer distribution is equally critical. Moreover, building farmers' capacities for effective fertilizer use and soil health improvement is imperative.” he said.

H.E. Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, reiterated the imperative of accelerated action on the commitments of the Nairobi Declaration to make up for lost time and advance towards the goals of earlier declarations, including the Abuja, Malabo, and Maputo Declarations, as well as the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). “Some African countries produce fertilizers but we depend mostly on fertilizers, making them very expensive for our farmers. 

Yet the African Center for Fertilizer Development based in Zimbabwe has been in existence since the 1980’s. We must optimise use of such existing Continental assets to boost local fertilizer production and deliver quality fertilizers to African farmers at affordable prices. This is imperative if we are to improve the Continent’s agricultural sector, key for our food sovereignty and security. These investments should also be reflected in our national budgets.,” he said.

Due to decades of continuous soil nutrient mining and the age of the soils, Africa’s soils, which are among the oldest, globally, have become the poorest in the world. It is estimated that the continent loses over US$4 billion worth of soil nutrients each year, severely risking Africa’s ability to feed itself. Yet, a broad base of African farmers neither have access to fertilizers nor can they afford inputs needed to add life to their soils to reverse the downward spiral of the degradation of the physical environment.

The discourse has been changed from crop productivity and profitability focus to a broader set of goals and targets such as sustainability and climate change adaptation and mitigation, rehabilitation and regeneration of the land and soil and restoration of environmental services and mix of solutions rather than one jacket fits all kind of approach. 

The major challenge facing food systems in Africa is how to exponentially increase productivity, sustainability, and rapidly increasing demographic, pressure and changing climate conditions while maintaining or enhancing the health of the soil resource base. Safeguarding the health of African soil is key. It’s not just about enhancing food security but also in securing environmental sustainability, “ said the Former Ethiopian Prime Minister and board chair of AGRA, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn.

The low fertiliser use and poor soil health continue to undermine sustainable agriculture production and productivity particularly among communal and small-holder farmers. This is compounded by climate change, inadequate infrastructure and mechanisation. H.E. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa underscored the need to deliberately support and increase investments in agriculture, “It is unfortunate that despite the inherent potential, Africa currently spends billions of dollars in food and fertilizer imports per year. 

Greater efforts must be made to leverage the availability of raw materials for the local production of mineral fertilizers and reduce our over-reliance on imports.

Similarly, agriculture extension, communication and education programmes should be strengthened with regards to scaling up fertilizer consumption to reach the target of 50 kg per hectare. It is critically important for us to invest in strategic institutions to provide leadership and mechanisms to meet the goals set out in the 10-year Action Plan”.

The application of appropriate fertilizers quantities taking into account the soil types increase productivity while minimizing environmental degradation. H.E. Mr Hakainde Hichilema, President of Zambia, called for synergy and collaboration between policy makers and the private sector.

“We shouldn't depend on others to supply us with fertilizers from outside the continent, therefore we need to invest to increase the capacity to produce fertilizers internally using our raw material that are available. 

The continent has these raw materials which must be exploited effectively and we need to invest in order to exploit this resources. When we invest we must ensure that we mobilize capital which is fairly priced otherwise there will be a cost push on the fertilizer that will produce.

H.E. Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi observed that the missing link to Africa’s food security is the health of the soil, adding that Malawi has developed a 10 year action plan on fertilizer and soil health to domesticate the continental framework.

“Our goal is to improve soil health. Improve the usage of organic and inorganic fertilizers, improve soil productivity and reduce soil degradation and soil erosion. In so doing we will reverse the negative trend in the deterioration of our soil health through a set of interventions that have been outlined in the action plan. Through Malawi’s action plan, costing approximately 163m dollars the southern African nation will leverage existing programs by government and other stakeholders, with its development partners’ support to ensure swift and effective implementation.

H.E. Dr. Nangolo Mbumba, President of Namibia, underscored the importance of a holistic approach as a critical element for addressing food demands in Africa and ensuring the long-term sustainability of global food production systems. “A balanced approach to soil fertilizer management is critical. Integrating mineral and organic fertilizers and other soil management techniques to create a sustainable agricultural system that meets both the current and future food needs without compromising the soil health of the continent."

H.E. President Faustine Archange Touadera, Central African Republic emphasized the urgency for increased productivity to boost agricultural growth and sustainable economic development. “Fertilizer has to be affordable and available to farmers because if it's not then we will not achieve the intended objective of increasing productivity and increase use to 50kgs/ha. We have to acknowledge that nearly 70% of the active population is involved in agricultural production. However, the quality of our soils is a problem for Africa's food production in spite of the abundance of arable land."

Several other leaders and development partners also addressed the Summit.

At the Summit, the Heads of state and Governments called on the African Union Commission and AUDA-NEPAD to develop the partnerships and institutional arrangements for implementation of the Nairobi declaration and report to the Ordinary Session of the Assembly in February 2026.

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