Low use of fertilizers and low productivity in sub-Saharan Africa
Mwangi, Wilfred M
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Up to the year 2000 and beyond, the population of SSA is expected to grow at a rate of more than 3% per year, while food production is likely to grow at a rate of 2% or less a year. Closing this gap and increasing food production will require intensive agriculture based on modern technologies, including fertilizers. Such changes are particulalry crucial because many regions of SSA are no longer land abundant. Land scarcity is compounded by low soil fertility, resulting from the shortening or elimination of the fallow period without concurrent efforts to increase soil nutrients through fertilizer application or other soil management practices. Output per hectare will need to grow by raising the productivity of land and labor. Increased use of fertilizer has a key role to play in this process. Because of the high labor intensity and low quality of organic fertilizer, restoration of soil fertility increasingly requires the use of inorganic fertilizer. SSA's consumption of this critical input is very low. In 1990, farmers in SSA used 8.4 kilograms per hectare of plant nutrients, far short of what is needed to compensate for the harvested nutrients. A stable policy environment conducive to change is absolutely critical for promoting growth in fertilizer use. Such growth is especially important if small-scale farmers are to increase production, ensure food security, and protect the environment. Policy particularly needs to address the issue of subsidies. Although they will inevitably be removed in the long run, in short and medium run they should be retained while policies address other important issues such as credit and the need to support appropriate agricultural research, to develop and maintain infrastructure, and to foster the development of a viable private sector-all of which will lead to increased fertilizer use.