Fertilisers--food for a hungry Earth: no continent on Earth is in greater need of fertilisers than Africa and yet, no continent uses fewer fertilisers than Africa. In a bid to understand this paradox, Anver Versi talked to one of the world's leading experts in the field, Amit Roy.

Author:Versi, Anver
Position:AFRICA LAUNCHES GREEN REVOLUTION - International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development - Interview

If Africa is to achieve its long sought after Green Revolution, several conditions have to be met. Principal among these is the rejuvenation of its farmlands--which at the moment are in dire straits. Coupled with the efforts to refertilise exhausted land will be the widespread distribution of good quality seeds to increase yields without necessarily increasing the area of cultivated land.

Africa's numerous borders are a major hindrance to the movement of goods between African states and add substantially to costs. However, "as a starting off point, Africa's leaders have now agreed to remove all tariffs and duties on the movement of fertilisers between states and this, in my opinion, forms the start of the Green Revolution," says Amit Roy, director of International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development (IFDC).

He was referring to the Fertiliser Summit held in Abuja in June that attracted over 1,000 delegates and 40 heads of state. "Fertiliser is both a strategic as well as a political commodity," he adds, "as it often holds the key to survival."

Some 75-80% of Africa's farmland is degraded. Africa loses between 30kg and 60kg per hectare per annum of nutrients--the highest rate in the world. The countries in Africa with the highest rates of depletion are Guinea, Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda at 60kg per hectare.

"Yet fertiliser use in Africa is the lowest of any region in the world," says Roy, regarded as one of the world's leading experts on the subject. "In 2002/03 sub-Saharan Africa used 8kg of fertiliser per hectare; compare this to South America (80kg), North America (98kg), Western Europe (175kgs) and East Asia (202kgs)."

Within Africa, South Africa averages 61kg/ha and North Africa 69kg/ha. Both areas have thriving agricultural sectors.

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World consumption of fertiliser is 154m tonnes per annum, with India and China accounting for about half of this. Sub-Saharan Africa's consumption is a mere 2m tones. "Contrast this with Bangladesh which uses 3.4m tonnes and is self-sufficient in food," says Roy.

"The irony is that no region of the world is better endowed with the principal ingredients required to make fertiliser than Africa," he adds. Africa has 67% of the world's reserves of phosphates (mainly in North Africa), nitrates and crude oil from which nitrogen can be extracted.

"These are the building blocks of all plant life," Roy states. "Without them, you cannot grow anything from a...

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