Inorganic fertilizer use in Africa has been rising over the last couple of years, albeit, still low compared with other regions of the world, Fitch Solutions indicates.
Usage of fertilizer in the region doubled over 2006 to 2017, reaching almost 1.6 million tonnes of nutrients in 2010.
With a global average of fertilizer application per hectare of cultivated land of 135kg, sub-Saharan Africa’s share stands at only 17kg per hectare as of 2018. This is drastically below the 50 kg per hectare fertilizer application capacity considered adequate.
In the SSA region, small holder farmers are the predominant growers in the region. And entitled to most of the farm lands. However, these farmers mostly apply little or no inorganic fertilizer. As many farmers in SSA rely on livestock manure to maintain soil fertility.
More so, this affects the chemical constituents of the soil, thus leading to chemical limitations. For instance, one cow produces only about 15kg of nitrogen as manure each year, while a maize crop yielding about three tonne/ha requires about 100kg of nitrogen/ ha.
Accordingly, other forms of organic fertilizer also face various problems, including availability and logistical issues, Fitch Solutions adduces. Consequently, total levels of fertilizer use are insufficient to replace the soil nutrients lost each year through crop production.
Statistics show that Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia account for almost two-thirds of consumption of fertilizer in the region. Also, three countries in North Africa and the Middle East account for roughly 75% of fertilizer use.
Tracing direction of policy initiatives to boost fertilizer consumption
Fitch Solutions underscores some critical factors that have attributed to the low usage of inorganic fertilizer in the region. Drawing out on the broad range of contributing factors from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, three categories of reasons stand out: lack of knowledge, lack of affordability and poor incentives.
Furthermore, in dealing with the low levels of fertilizer use, African governments have created multiple plans in recent years.
Particularly, in 2003, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Plan called for a target of 6% compound annual growth in agricultural productivity by 2015. At the same time, it called on governments to allocate at least 10% of their budgets to the agricultural sector.
Meanwhile, some of the notable successes for fertilizer consumption have been in improving government subsidy programmes, increasing private sector participation and addressing some of financing concerns.
However, other policy interventions remain constrained. These include a lack of national-level fertilizer policies and monitoring capabilities, regional procurement challenges, and limited intra-regional trade.
This has led to calls for the African Union Commission to convene an Abuja II. This would involve implementing initiatives to again increase fertilizer use levels. With focus going beyond fertilizers to cover soil health, integrated soil fertility management and the importance of farming profitability.
These notwithstanding, Africa as a whole is a net fertilizer exporter. The region is projected to have a surplus of both nitrogen and phosphorus in 2020. This is mainly a result of major production facilities north of the Sahara, with production concentrated in six countries: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia.
Fitch Solutions holds a more positive view on the near-term prospects for fertilizer production in SSA, especially for nitrogen-based fertilizers.