Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit: The Challenge of Implementation

Dignitaries at the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit

The just concluded Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health (AFSH) Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, became imperative in the face of myriad challenges affecting agricultural productivity and food production in Africa. Linked to unsustainable agricultural practices, heads of state, ministers, policymakers, researchers, and farmers gathered in Nairobi with a unified goal to restore Africa’s ailing soils and ensure a food-secure continent.

The Summit culminated in the Nairobi Declaration on Fertilizer and Soil Health, as well as a 10-year action plan committed to addressing the bottlenecks farmers face in access and affordability of fertilizers, 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 enhance the health and productivity of Africa’s soils.

Notably, at the summit, thirteen commitments were made, all of which can be found on the AU website.

But the real test lies ahead—translating these resolutions into action. 

A Continent with Potential: Waking the Sleeping Giant

Africa boasts a powerful secret weapon in its fight against food insecurity: 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land lies within its borders. “This vast potential underscores our ability and obligation to transform Africa from a hungry continent into a self-sufficient global breadbasket.” According to President Ruto of Kenya, while speaking at the closing ceremony.

Although Africa falls short of the Abuja Declaration targets on fertilizer consumption, which has only risen from 8 kg/ha to below 25 kg/ha since 2006, some countries have met or surpassed the 50 kg/ha target. Countries such as Morocco (55.29); Eswatini (57.77); Botswana (59.27); Kenya (60.66); Zambia (63.90); Malawi (96.74); South Africa (104.64); Mauritius (186.50); Seychelles (542.47); and Egypt (542.57).

Fertilizer consumption also saw a significant increase in Nigeria, from 8 kg/ha in 2006 to between 22 and 25 kg/ha, with investment in Urea plants moving up to 6 million metric tons per annum, according to the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Security, Dr. Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi.

Despite that Africa contributes the least to global warming and has the lowest carbon emissions, contributing just 4 per cent, it is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Globally, sub-Saharan Africa has 95% of rain-fed agriculture. But despite the decreasing crop yields and increasing population, Africa can feed Africa. 

AU Media Fellow, Adesewa Olofinko (Nigeria) with the Minister of Agriculture (Malawi), Samuel Dalitso Kawale, at the AFSH summit in Nairobi, Kenya, 7-9th, May, 2024.
AU Media Fellow, Adesewa Olofinko (Nigeria) with the Minister of Agriculture (Malawi), Samuel Dalitso Kawale, at the AFSH summit in Nairobi, Kenya, 7-9th, May, 2024.

Financing the Future: A Collective Responsibility

The financial resources required to implement the goals of the Nairobi Declaration are substantial. While African nations must commit to increased budgetary allocations for agriculture, it has also been established that partnerships and collaborations are crucial. For instance, a 3-year partnership between AUDA-NEPAD and Norway is a positive step towards providing financial and technical assistance to support Africa’s agricultural transformation.

“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.” According to H.E. Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The Road Ahead: Walking the Talk

The success of the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health (AFSH) summit hinges on Africa’s ability to translate the resolutions and commitments into concrete action plans. What are governments going to do differently? What new policies need to be crafted in their home countries and what old ones need to be improved on? How do we hope to introduce smallholder farmers to sustainable soil management practices and access to fertilizers and financing? Would there be education and training programs on sustainable farming techniques? What plans are in place to address the underinvestment in rural infrastructure? 

Governments, the private sector, farmers’ associations, researchers, and civil society must all play their part. 

As we watch with hopeful anticipation following the Nairobi declaration, we look forward to collaborative efforts on the journey to a food-secure Africa. We hope that by leveraging the power of innovation, we will see the dreams sown at the summit blossom into a reality of thriving farmlands, bountiful harvests, and a continent that nourishes itself and the world. 

Adesewa Olofinko is an African Union Media Fellow.