Very important article on Africa's agriculture future.
"Africa Faces Barren Future: 'To Feed People We Must Feed the Soil'
- Karen Palmer , The Toronto Star, March 31, 2006 Kampala, Uganda.
Africa is in danger of losing its ability to feed an already hungry population because its farmland is rapidly becoming barren, a major new study warns. More than 80 per cent of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in three people is undernourished, is so depleted of nutrients it has been rendered infertile, the report notes."This is severely eroding Africa's ability to feed itself," Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said yesterday. "To feed people, we must also feed the soil."Researchers from the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development, who tracked soil conditions across Africa for more than two decades, say population growth is leading to an over-cultivation of farmland.Farmers who once rotated crop production, moving from plot to plot to allow soil to regain its fertility, are now forced to grow crop after crop on the same land, "depleting the soil of nutrients while giving nothing back," says the report.An estimated 70 per cent of Africans rely directly on farming for their food supply or livelihood. But the "soil health crisis" means crop productivity has remained stagnant, while cereal yields in Asia have tripled over the past four decades."The news is not good," said Amit Roy, president of the U.S.-based non-profit soil centre, during a telephone conference in Washington yesterday. "The soil health of the African continent is in decline and there is significant mining of nutrients." Roy said at least 170 million hectares - nearly 80 per cent of all African farmland - is so barren it cannot produce even one tonne of cereal per hectare a year - a third of what soil in Asia or South America produces.The findings have major implications for the continent's ability to feed itself. Already, some 43 million tonnes of cereals are imported to sub-Saharan Africa each year at a cost of $7.5 billion (all figures U.S.). But despite that, an estimated 200 million people go hungry each year. Without radical change in agricultural practices, the report predicts that by 2020, Africa will have to import 60 million tonnes of cereals, which would cost $14 billion."African aid is never, never going to end food insecurity," said Firmino Mucavele, chief executive of the New Partnership For Africa's Development secretariat. Nigeria's Obasanjo is chair of the implementing committee of the African Union-sponsored secretariat. He said too many nutrients are being removed from the African soil, and not being replenished with suitable fertilizers. "The environment is being damaged by the quality and quantity of fertilizers used," he said.Africa's rate of fertilizer use is one-tenth the world average, although commercial farmers grow peanut, cotton and sugar cane crops that are notoriously high consumers of soil nutrients. A cruel irony is that fertilizers cost up to six times as much in Africa as the rest of the world. A June summit will look at ways of lowering that cost, including the possibility of producing fertilizer in Africa, and promoting mineral and organic fertilizers. The ultimate objective is to reduce or eliminate hunger.There also needs to be more investment in irrigation, Roy said. Only 4 per cent of arable land in Africa is watered artificially, while nearly 40 per cent of land in Asia is irrigated. And the problem needs to be managed immediately, Roy said, since farmers are encroaching on even more fragile ecosystems, like forests and savannahs, in search of new land to till. Researchers found 50,000 hectares of forest and 60,000 hectares of grassland are cleared for farming each year in Africa."Without the green revolution, we'll never be able to create our own resources and decrease poverty," Mucavele said. "Without a green revolution, we'll never really control our own environment."
Interested in creating an African garden where you live?