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April 17, 2008

Africa needs to increase fertilizer use, says IAASTD report

Farmers in sub-Saharan African countries will not produce adequate harvests without greater use of fertilisers, says a report. The document, commissioned by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, says the use of fertilisers is one of the options for improved production.

Even though agriculture accounts for about 32 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product, overall per capita yield has since stagnated, the report launched on April 15 says.

It adds that the decline in production is partly due to poor soil moisture content, which affects more than 80 per cent of Africa’s agricultural land. The problem can partly be solved by fertiliser use.

In the past month in Kenya, fertiliser prices have shot up by more than 100 per cent, affecting food production. Agriculturalists have also warned that if the prices do not go down, food production in the country will decline this year.

Apart from increasing the use of fertiliser the report, entitled International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), also says the continent’s farmers ought to conserve both water and soil organic matter.

The document, compiled after years of research by top scientists from various parts of the world, warns that some crops face extinction. It names traditional staples like tef and yams as facing extinction due to stiff competition from modern crops.

The document cites Africa as the only region where per capita fish supplies are falling, despite the abundance of fresh water lakes and rivers.

The document also says Africa needs to exploit its potential in agricultural knowledge, science and technology to reduce runaway poverty and hunger rates. According to the document, 30 per cent of Africans are chronically hungry, and there are similar levels of malnutrition among children under five. It says that the situation is worsened by the lack of micronutrient-rich foods.

The authors say it is time the continent efficiently exploited both surface and ground water and improve livestock, and stop relying solely on hardy and disease-resistant indigenous breeds with low productivity.

The Daily Nation

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