Looking at the hard facts about agricultural production in Africa, past and present, makes it difficult to understand why this continent is not yet realising its true potential in providing solutions to food and nutrition security for a growing planet.
A recent feature in The Economist journal (September 19th, 2015, p.48-49) has drawn together some interesting facts and figures which lead to the conclusion that producing more in this continent may fortunately be quite simple.
Firstly Africa has about half the planets uncultivated arable land as well as plenty of people to work it.
And in the past it has shown its true potential with 8% of the worlds agricultural exports such as coffee, cocoa, palm oil and peanuts in 1970 coming ‘out of Africa’.
In 2009, this had decreased to less than 2% with Thailand exporting more and Africa becoming a net importer.
This is mainly due to the almost stagnant growth in crop yields with average yields of maize being about 1-1.5 tonnes per hectare compared to the Mid-West of America of 10 tonnes per hectare.
Although poor government policies have been partly to blame the fact that the average African fertilizer use per hectare is still only 10 kilograms compared with 80-100 kilograms in other agricultural regions is an underlying factor in this predicament.
In The Economist feature, the exemplary story is told of a Kenyan coffee farmer who is now producing bumper crops of plump beans simply by doubling fertilizer input from one to two bags, and by pruning back old unproductive wood which actually draws valuable nutrients from the trees.
As a consequence output per tree has increased by 50% and the farmers income by more than this as plumper coffee beans sell at a premium which will pay for a new pickup – all in all stimulating the ‘local’ economy!
“The previous post on the Kemnovation web-site entitled ‘Low soil fertility link to rural poverty‘ highlighted the importance of improving agricultural productivity in stimulating economic development and here is another example illustrating this connection” says Dr Kevin Moran.
He adds that “I strongly believe that closing the yield gaps will meet most of the additional food demands of a growing planet and judicious use of more fertilisers has a simple but essential part to play in unleashing Africa’s immense agricultural, social and economic potential”.
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