At an average of 12 kilogrammes per hectare, local fertiliser usage in Nigeria and other African countries have been considered low, compared to the global average of 100 kilogrammes per hectare. But, prompted by Africa’s fast-growing population, as well as the increasing awareness that high quality fertiliser is key to increased and sustainable food production, experts at the 10th Annual Argus Africa Fertiliser conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, brainstormed on how to boost agric productivity through increased use of fertiliser.
DANIEL ESSIET, who attended the conference, reports.
They came from far and near, but were united in their resolve to force a dramatic change in the way African countries practice agriculture. To experts and policy makers from the fertiliser supply chain in Nigeria and other African countries, who gathered at the recently-concluded 10th Annual Argus Africa Fertiliser conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, the need to boost Africa’s agricultural productivity through increased use of fertiliser has never been this compelling.
For one, Africa’s population is growing fast, requiring the production of enough food to feed the growing population. The snag, however, is that Nigerian soil and those of other African countries are said to be among the most degraded in the world.
Besides, the scope for bringing additional land under cultivation is limited. This, according to experts, has necessitated the need to turn to fertilisers and other complementary inputs to increase food and agricultural production.
It was, therefore, hardly surprising that finding solutions to boosting fertiliser supply and agri-business trade investments in Africa was the focus of the fertiliser conference in Morocco.
At the event, which was sponsored by Office Cherifien des Phosphate (OCP) Africa, industry experts and stakeholders agreed that the fertiliser industry will continue to play a central role in feeding Africa’s ever-growing population and agricultural demands.
The delegates, who included industry executives, government and public sector representatives, fertiliser suppliers, farmer organisations and logistics companies, among others shared insights, identified problems and presented joint solutions on how to boost Africa’s agricultural productivity through increased use of fertiliser.
The conference, which brought together over 500 key players from the fertiliser supply chain, expressed worries over Africa’s low fertiliser application or usage rate.
For instance, despite the continent’s growing population, the average rate of use of fertiliser in Nigeria and other African countries is a paltry 12 kilogrammes (kg) per hectare, compared to the global average of 100 kg per hectare.
The low fertiliser application rate, according to experts, is because fertiliser’s other complementary inputs are not accessible and affordable to smallholder farmers, who constitute the bulk of food producers on the continent.
African Union’s (AU’s) Rural Economy and Agriculture High Commissioner, Ms Josefa Sacko, also attributed the situation to poor policies, low investment, unattractive investment conditions and ill-equipped smallholder farmers.
She said the African local fertiliser industry is facing challenges, but those challenges also represent opportunities. She, however, emphasised that to produce enough food to feed the continent’s growing population, agric productivity has to increase through the use of fertiliser as well as improved seeds and other technologies.
Sacko recalled that the special AU Summit of Heads of State and Governments, which held in Nigeria in June 2006, adopted the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser for an African Green Revolution.
The Declaration, she said, was a commitment to increase Africa’s fertiliser use from the then-average of 8kg per hectare to 50kg per hectare by 2015. She, however, regretted that the target was never met.
She also regretted that rather than being met, average fertiliser use in Africa has continued to stand at an average of 12kg per hectare, compared to 150kg per hectare in Asia, for instance.
Sacko expressed concerns that few countries in Africa were making efforts to implement the Abuja Declaration, urging the continent’s governments to support indigenous private sector companies to produce fertiliser that can be distributed among AU-member states.
The AU High Commissioner pointed out that for Africa to increase her fertiliser consumption rate, the cost of the critical input, among other factors, needs to come down substantially. “We still have a long way to go to increase agric productivity. It’s important to expand the discussion about the soil health and how it supports fertiliser,” Ms Sacko added.
Ms Sacko also said for African countries to achieve food security, there is need to increase investments in the fertiliser sector. She, however, noted that for this to happen, it will take much more than political commitments. According to her, it will require practical measures to encourage investors to explore opportunities across the sector’s value chain.
Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department Director, African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Martin Fregene, noted that the potential for increasing the continent’s food basket was huge.
He, however, pointed out that smallholder farmers in many African countries are challenged by poor access to fertiliser. While pointing out that access to quality fertiliser will boost crop production, he called for policies that will promote unhindered access to the input.
Fregene, however, said the AfDB will provide credit guarantee of up to four million Euros for fertiliser importers and agro dealers.
He said the guarantee, which is under the African Fertiliser Financial Mechanism (AFFM), was to ensure that Africa meets its 20 million tonnes of fertiliser need yearly, which, according to him, will require an investment of $20 billion yearly.
AFFM is a joint initiative of the Bank, the AU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), established by a declaration of the AU Heads of State Fertiliser Summit, which held in June 2006 in Abuja.
With the support of UNECA and the AU Commission, the AFFM, with its secretariat in Tunis, had the objective of increasing fertiliser use in Africa from 12 kg per hectare average to 50 kg per hectare, to boost agricultural productivity.
AFFM aims to create a catalytic environment for the investments needed in Africa to enhance fertiliser production and consumption at affordable prices. It focuses on two types of activities, namely: facilitation and encouraging the private sector to invest in fertiliser ventures aimed at expanding national and regional production capacity.
The AfDB director added that improved access to quality and affordable fertiliser, as well as other inputs such as better seed and farming practices, are game changers in the continent’s push for food security. He said farmers are failing to raise their productivity to boost food security because of limited access and low use of fertiliser, a critical but neglected input.
He also said there is need to finance the entire fertiliser value chain and support farmers through smart subsidies. He said the establishment of the AFFM was agreed upon at the 2006 African Fertiliser Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, to meet the financing requirements of the various activities agreed on to boost the growth of the fertiliser industry in Africa.
AFFM offers loans of over 400 million dollars to finance projects to achieve the goals of the Abuja Declaration. Fregene said AfDB’s Technologies for African Transformation (TAAT) was working with AFFM and financial institutions to identify the right value chain actors and new activities for funding.
The role of OCP
With her fast-growing population, Africa is widely acknowledged as one of the most important fertiliser markets in the world. However, big ticket investments in fertiliser production are lacking, which was why the African agric sector suffers from low usage of the product.
However, Morocco’s OCP Group has weighed in on the situation. The Group is working to transform Africa into the home of one of the largest fertiliser complexes in the world. The aim was to meet the local demand for fertiliser and export to the regional markets.
In doing so, OCP Africa Managing Director, Karim Lotfi Senhaji, said fertiliser was a food production lifeline; that a thriving fertiliser industry means more productive farmers and better livelihoods. He stated that the fertiliser industry has a crucial role to play in addressing food security challenges, as the continent’s population continues to expand rapidly.
OCP, he explained, hosted the event, focusing on the challenges facing the fertiliser industry and the need for producers to collaborate in the areas of research, technologies and exchange of best practices and ideas.
While pointing out that Africa’s rapidly growing population and planned capacity expansions are key drivers for sustained growth for fertiliser producers, Senhaji said increased demand and supply gap in fertiliser provides an opportunity to expand the fertiliser manufacturing capacity.
OCP Africa, he added, has been expanding its investments, boasting 12 subsidiaries in Africa in the process. Senhaji, however, said the group will focus on Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. The Nigerian plant, he said, will cost $1.5 billion and would have a total capacity of one million tonnes of ammonia.
He said the continent’s agricultural production will need to be more than double by 2050 in order to meet the growing demand for food. “The fertiliser industry is arguably, one of the most important industries globally.
“Fertiliser provides food security and nutrition for the population, brings prosperity and growth to the agricultural sector, and–if applied in an efficient manner–helps preserve our planet’s ecosystems,” Senhaji said.
He added that in the next few years, the role of the fertiliser industry in ensuring global prosperity will increase tremendously, as the global challenges faced today are becoming ever more complex and difficult to address.
The OCP boss also stated that OCP Africa has partnered several national and international companies to form joint ventures in order to diversify its product offerings, expand into global markets and increase local sector participation.
He said, for instance, that in Ethiopia, the Moroccan firm expects its chemical plant to be operational by 2023 or 2024, with an initial capacity of 2.5 million tonnes of fertiliser.
In Ethiopia, OCP sold a customised fertiliser, combining phosphates, nitrogen and sulphur, which helped to increase maize yield by 37 per cent.
The group, which controls 75 per cent of the world’s phosphate reserves, has a 65 per cent market share of phosphates-based fertiliser in Africa.
“However, in 2018, sales dropped because the market went down mainly due to a rise in international prices,” Senhaji said.
The OCP boss said the country‘s university has created a master’s programme in fertiliser management. The graduates of the programme will serve as highly skilled talent pool that foreign manufacturers could draw on. Domestic manufacturers will also benefit.
The Vice President, Local Market Farming Development of OCP, Madam Fathiha Charradi, said the company was ready to partner Nigeria to adopt the Al Moutmir approach in order to improve the lot of farmers.
She said at the heart of the project are three principles: scientific approach, partnership and the farmers. The farmers go through training sessions where they have the opportunity to ask questions and share ideas.
The project also uses tools such as digital technology to interact with farmers. She said Morocco has also established a strong culture of support and training for farmers, including 52 agricultural vocational training centres across the country.
Charradi said agricultural extension agents have been equipped with the information and training to provide advice to farmers on how to operate new irrigation technologies, adding that farmers can do more with the current resources at their disposal, if equipped with the right scientific knowledge.
She also said there is need to bridge the information gap among service providers and farmers, ensuring that practical advice are available on sustainable field practices that preserve and improve soil. There is also the need to continue to support farmers in optimising fertiliser application.
Charradi also harped on the need for the African fertiliser industry to assist in human capacity building, as well as the introduction of new technologies to farmers.
Eyeing Nigeria’s fertiliser market
OCP Country Manager, Mr. Caleb Usoh, said Nigeria’s Niger Delta will get a multi-million ammonia fertiliser processing plant. The plant, according to him, will cost $1.5 billion and would have a total capacity of one million tonnes of ammonia.
Usoh told The Nation that studies are going on the plant site that will be located near a seaport, as the products will be meant for export.
Nigeria currently imports ammonium phosphorus fertiliser from Morocco. With the plant, only phosphorus will be imported and blended with ammonia in-country.
Usoh said his organisation was ready to offer Nigerians fertiliser mixed with micro nutrients, which will be applied to obtain optimal yields.
He explained that the ‘Agribooster’ programme was part of the company’s ongoing efforts to facilitate the provision of all necessary resources, training, and extension service, and market access for smallholder farmers across Nigeria.
According to him, “the Agribooster programme is a unique initiative that works across the supply chain to connect African farmers with quality inputs, financing and insurance and provides comprehensive training on proper input use, thereby increasing farmers’ crop yields and incomes”.
Usoh added that the programme also supports the strengthening of the farmers’ commercial ties and enables them to benefit from training and extension/propagation services based on agricultural best practices.
He said with its growing presence across the continent, OCP understands the diversity and complex needs of Africa’s soils, and is committed to offering the right fertiliser products at the right time, in the right place and at the right price.
OCP International, Morocco, owns the largest phosphate- based fertiliser producing plant in the world. The company believes that overall, the outlook for the African fertiliser sector is positive, but that the sector must adapt to the changing nature of global trade and technology.
Senhaji said, for instance, that fertiliser industry’s future depends on players’ ability to provide goods and services that help feed the world, improve lives, and protect the environment.
His words: “Without fertilisers, more than half of current food production would be compromised, which highlights the industry’s irreplaceable role in providing nutrition to billions of people on the planet.
“Our products are the essential engines of agricultural productivity. Fertiliser, if correctly used, can significantly protect and enhance a nation’s soil resources. This is particularly important for our region, as we live in an environment characterised by harsh climate conditions and scarce water resources.”
The OCP chief highlighted ongoing research on the next generation of fertiliser, which he noted, would make efficient use of nitrogen and phosphate in processes that would not concurrently produce carbon dioxide.
He emphasised OCP Africa’s role, particularly through AFFM, and the need to stimulate private sector participation in the industry, adding that Africa has potential to become a major fertiliser market.
Senhaji added that the region was endowed with mineral reserves of the three major plants’ macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potash (K). Moreover, the continent is subject to rapid population and income growth and changing food consumption habits.
He added that the pace and diversification of Africa’s food needs will require the region’s farmers to increase agricultural production and yields, which will boost fertiliser demand. Otherwise, the continent’s economic growth potential will remain stunted.
Source: The Nation