Dissenting Voices at Nairobi Soil Health Forum Over Increased Fertilizer Use

By Isaiah Espisu in IPS, 9 May 2024

As the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit convened in Nairobi to review the progress made in terms of increasing fertilizer use in line with the 2006 Abuja Declaration, experts, practitioners, activists, and even government officials pointed out that accelerated fertilizer use may not be the magic bullet for increased food production in Africa.

During the opening ceremony of the summit, Kenya’s Prime Cabinet Secretary, Musalia Mudavadi, who was also the guest of honor, said that in Kenya, there are places where fertilizer has been used optimally, but maize yields have stagnated.

“Though fertilizers are estimated to contribute more than 30 percent of the crop yield, we have witnessed in our country that fertilizer alone cannot sustain increased agricultural productivity and production,” he said.

Studies have also shown that the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers has had a significant impact on soil acidity in many African countries, which is a major constraint on crop production and the sustainable intensification of smallholder farming systems.

According to an ongoing research project known as Guiding Acid Soil Management Investments in Africa (GAIA), 15 percent of all agricultural soils in Africa are affected by acidity issues and this has led to land degradation, decreased availability of soil nutrients to plants, and decreased plant production and water use.

According to Dr George Oduor, a soil scientist and international research consultant, African farmers should now consider or scale up the use of the Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) approach with a focus on return on investment and consider the use of lime on acidic soils.

“There is a need for governments in Africa to develop locally responsive tools that can advise farmers on how to combine different organic and inorganic fertilizers, how and when to intercrop with legumes for nitrogen fixation, and what crops to prioritize in different agroecological zones,” said Oduor in an interview with IPS.

However, some activists feel that there is a need for a complete shift from synthetic fertilizers to organic methods of farming such as agroecology, the regenerative agriculture (RA) approach, and permaculture, among other sustainable farming techniques.

“The heavy financial burden placed on African nations to support the purchase of expensive, imported fertilizers drains local economies and diverts funds from more sustainable local agricultural investments,” said Bridget Mugambe, the Programme Coordinator at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

She called on governments and policymakers at the summit and across Africa to recognize the enormous potential of agroecology to sustainably increase food security and food sovereignty, so as to reduce poverty and hunger while conserving biodiversity and respecting indigenous knowledge.



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