Soil nutrient depletion, major cause of food shortage in Africa: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-11 06:30:00|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Justice Lee Adoboe & Seth Tei Gafah

ACCRA, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Experts at the three-day West Africa Fertilizer and Agri-Business Conference which began here on Monday identified depletion of soil nutrients as one of the key challenges to food security on the African continent.

Eugine Rurangwa, Land and Water Officer at the UN-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) African Regional Office noted there is the need for increasing current food production levels significantly to meet growing demands.

He observed that globally populations will approach nine billion, and the increasing demand for health and nutrition food will continue to increase and push humanity to try to meet the demand.

"To meet the demand for nutritious and healthy food, agriculture production has to increase globally by 60 percent and in our Developing Countries almost by 100 percent. And this has to be done without increasing the surface area. So this is really a very serious challenge that we have," Rurangwa noted.

While globally, 30 percent of the soil is moderately or highly degraded through erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, chemical pollution and nutrient depletion, he said the situation in Africa is worse.

"In sub-Saharan Africa 83 percent of rural people depend on the land for livelihood and we know that almost 80 percent of African soil are currently degraded. So it is really a huge challenge to be able to produce the almost 100 percent that we are saying with this situation," he added.

The FAO official therefore urged national level actions including putting soil management into policies and governance structures in African countries, which are sometimes lacking; "The second one is to invest into soil research. The third one is also to invest again in education and extension programs in soil management area."

The conference is organized by the West African Fertilizer Association (WAFA) and Argus to discuss issues on soil fertility and the need for soil conservation and fertilizer use for maximum crop yield for food security.

Victor Chude, National President of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria who is also a panelist on some of the Plenary sessions told Xinhua that indeed the soil infertility is hampering food production in Africa.

"A lot of our soils are losing their fertility because a lot of nutrient mining is going on. What it means is the farmers are not using enough fertilizers. Most parts of Africa still use up to 10 kgs of nutrients per hectare as opposed to the 50 kgs per hectare recommended by African Heads of State in 2006 to be attained in 2015," he stressed.

Since fertilizers are usually expensive, Chude urged African governments to support farmers to purchase the right type of fertilizers to be applied in the right volumes for maximum food production.

"Impact on food security is adverse if farmers don't use fertilizer because the nutrient levels in the soil are too low to meet the demands of the crops and the yields will be low." he said.