Home Opinion Press Releases AFSA Urges African Governments To Focus On Biofertilizers For Reviving Soil Health

AFSA Urges African Governments To Focus On Biofertilizers For Reviving Soil Health



The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa led a delegation of farmers and civil society organizations to the African Union Summit on Fertilizer and Soil Health, which was held in Nairobi from May 7 to 9, 2024. More than a thousand people from across Africa and around the world participated. The summit aimed to highlight the crucial role of fertilizers and soil health in driving sustainable pro-poor productivity growth in African agriculture and to agree on a 10-year fertilizer action plan and Soil Health in Africa, as well as the Africa Soil Initiative. The ten-year action plan aims to “significantly increase investments in the local manufacturing and distribution of mineral and organic fertilizers, biofertilizers and biostimulants” and to “triple fertilizer use from 18 kg/ha in 2020 to 54 kg/ha in 2033”.

Land degradation is increasing, with more than 20% of land already degraded in most African countries. Reported yield losses range from moderate to catastrophic (over 50%), depending on crop, soil type, climate and production systems, with most studies reporting significant losses (FAO).

Many African countries, including Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya, have reported that their soils are now acidified, due to intensive monoculture and prolonged use of fertilizers based on nitrogen.

All agree that mineral fertilizers alone are not enough. Africa is being pushed to triple fertilizer use, while European farmers are being pushed to use less to reduce carbon emissions.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has driven up the price of fertilizer, increasing the debt burden on African countries and individual farmers. Kenya spends 60% of its annual budget on debt repayment, while the world’s biggest fertilizer companies make record profits. Kenya uses an average of 57 kg of fertilizer per hectare, but produces less grain per hectare than Uganda, which uses only 2 kg per hectare.

Most of the discussion has focused on ways to increase the use of synthetic fertilizers and not on soil health. Discussions focused on technical aspects of fertilizer distribution and use. The social aspects, the impact on local economies or the preferences of farmers have been very little addressed.

Many countries have recognized that fertilizer subsidies in Africa do not work and have failed. Additionally, the World Bank reportedly stated that the loans it provided to support the grants were spent on “bad fertilizers” due to the widespread practice of using generic fertilizers, such as NPK, DAP or urea, regardless of soil type or condition. As we speak, a Kenyan agriculture minister faces dismissal over the use of fake fertilizers.

The language used at the summit was interesting. We have not heard of “synthetic fertilizers”, nor “chemical fertilizers”, nor “artificial fertilizers”; we have only heard the term “mineral fertilizers”. (Note: Nitrogen is not a mineral, while phosphate and potash are synthesized or chemically modified in the fertilizer production process). The imperative to increase fertilizer use has translated into top-down language urging farmers to “change behavior” and “localize” the fertilizer strategy.

No one has mentioned the elephant in the room: fossil fuels, huge quantities of which are used for the production and distribution of fertilizer. (Note: the impact of nitrogen fertilizers on the global climate alone exceeds that of commercial aviation). Water scarcity and its crucial role in soil health have also been ignored.

Several governments, including Zambia, Namibia, Malawi and Burundi, have recognized the adverse effects of inorganic fertilizers on soil health, pollution and land degradation, and have called for a balance between organic and inorganic fertilizers. . Some countries noted that we need to view our work through the lens of food sovereignty.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa recognizes and welcomes the AU’s commitment to reversing land degradation and combating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. We know that African soils are seriously depleted. They have lost organic matter and lack the highly diverse microbial life of healthy natural soils. There is an urgent need for proactive interventions to stop and reverse land degradation.

We welcome the recognition of the role of biofertilizers and biostimulants in the ten-year action plan. This is a long overdue and welcome change in mindset. Africa is waking up to the need to shift to agroecological approaches. Implementation of the ten-year action plan should include farmers, civil society organizations and agroecology practitioners to develop strategies that reflect local realities and needs. Prioritizing indigenous seed diversity and reducing dependence on imported synthetic fertilizers will strengthen ecological resilience and food security while preserving the environment. By investing in sustainable, local agroecological soil health practices, African nations can reduce their economic burden and build a future that benefits both communities and ecosystems.


Focusing on agroecology:
We call on governments to recognize and integrate the transformative potential of agroecology in order to sustainably increase food security and sovereignty, reduce poverty and hunger while preserving biodiversity and respecting the knowledge and innovations of indigenous populations.

Develop new biological indicators for soil health:
Current indicators focus on soil chemical content and synthetic fertilizers. We need indicators that reflect the biological activity of living soil and that can be measured by farmers.

Investing in agroecological research:
Policymakers and funders should allocate more funds to participatory research on agroecological approaches to soil health.

Promote the production of organic fertilizers and gradually phase out imported chemical fertilizers: Rapidly replace chemical fertilizers with agroecological biological inputs, biofertilizers and biostimulants.

Involve farmers and civil society:
Farmers and civil society must participate in the development of a soil health strategy to ensure that plans meet the real needs and contexts of smallholder farmers.

In conclusion, AFSA calls for policies, strategies and plans that recognize and promote living soils, using context-specific agroecological bio-inputs, bio-fertilizers and bio-stimulants, that truly empower farmers, protect biodiversity and build resilient food systems. Through these transformative changes, we can ensure the long-term sustainability and sovereignty of Africa’s food systems.

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