Government outlines plans to increase fertiliser uptake

Experts believe that African farmers can play a key role in feeding the world while protecting the planet. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The strategies include provision of subsidised fertiliser to farmers in order to reduce the cost and increase distribution networks to ensure availability

Dar es Salaam. The government has outlined strategies to increase fertiliser uptake from the current 19 kilogrammes per hectare as it tries to address challenges facing farmers in the 2023/24 agricultural season.

The current utilisation is low in comparison to the international standard, which requires the application of 50 kilos of fertiliser per hectare. The revelation comes at a time when African countries are challenged to increase uptake tenfold from the current average of 20 kilogrammes per hectare in order to increase yields.

Tanzania believes that proper implementation of the strategies to maximise fertiliser uptake will enable the country to increase its maize and rice market shares on the continent to 15 and 10 percent, respectively.

Speaking to The Citizen, Agriculture minister Hussein Bashe said the strategies include the provision of subsidised fertiliser to farmers in order to reduce the cost of the substance and increase affordability as well as distribution networks to ensure the product is available all the time.

Mr Bashe said the government is also engaging cooperatives and civil society organisations belonging to farmers in the distribution channel.

“The government is doing a lot to educate farmers about extension services. This will enable them to understand and make accurate use of fertiliser.” He added; “We are also conducting soil tests. We have made massive investments in soil health mapping countrywide and now the government is carrying out soil tests on individual farms,” he added. He stressed that provision of education aims at ensuring that the country’s utilization of fertiliser reaches the international standard of 50 kilogrammes per hectare.

Since Tanzania’s population is projected to reach 80 million by 2030, the minister hinted that the demand for food would reach 20 million tonnes.

Mr Bashe said Tanzania aims to become food self-sufficient by 2030, as well as grab 15 and 10 percent of the market share of maize and rice on the continent, respectively.

“Africa’s maize demand stands at 100 million, while that of rice is 45 million,” he said.

He said the implementation of the Itracom Fertiliser Company’s project in Dodoma was largely supported by the government, as it aims to address the country’s fertiliser challenge.

The company will be liable for absorbing the shock brought on by global disruptions in fertiliser availability and supply, according to the agriculture minister.

“The government will continue to support fertiliser firms in Dodoma and Minjingu. The ministry of energy is doing a great job to revive a fertiliser project in Lindi Region that is expected to use the abundant natural gas in the southern region,” he said.

The initiative, he said, will make the country fertiliser self-sufficient in the next five to 10 years.

Mr Mostafa Terrab, chairman and CEO of Moroccan OCP Group, told Farmers African Review that in order to maximise yields, farmers on the continent must increase fertiliser uptake beyond 20 kilos per hectare.

“Doing this in a sustainable way –without longer-term environmental damage–will be crucial. Not just for the continent, but the globe as well: with 60 percent of the world’s remaining arable land, Africa’s vast, fertile soils represent humanity’s best hope for future food security,” he said.

“To address the immediate challenges of food insecurity prompted by skyrocketing commodity prices and export disruptions, stakeholders need to agree on urgent remedial actions. Any long-term solution to global food security and sustainable agriculture begins with the soil.”

He added; “Soil health is not only about preserving life beneath our feet. It makes all life above ground possible, from plants to people. An approach to farming that emphasises soil health and customised fertilisation for sustainable high yields is key to reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint.”

According to Mr Terrab, “This is a win-win: healthier soil and enhanced biodiversity actively suck harmful carbon from the atmosphere, while maximising yields per acre reduces pressure globally to convert forests and grasslands to agriculture.”

He said soil characteristics and growing conditions vary widely, not only globally but even within each continent, country, and region. This, according to him calls for a new approach to crop nutrition that shifts from commoditised products to customised crop nutrients that are adapted to different crops and soils, and applied at the right time.”

According to Mr Terrab, delivering these goals is entirely possible in Africa using established ‘precision farming’ techniques, which observe, measure, and respond to changes in the fields and crops.

“For example, mobile laboratories are already crossing Africa collecting soil samples covering millions of hectares. With this data, farmers can map which parcels of land require what type of nourishment and when.” More efficient application of the right fertiliser – only what the specific soil and crop needs and will use — reduces waste and run-off into ground and surface water.

“It also lowers costs while boosting yields per acre and, therefore, farmer incomes. African farmers are just as capable and eager as farmers anywhere in the world to increase their yields in a sustainable manner. They just need access to the right inputs, supply chains, financial tools, and innovations.”

He added that speeding farming revolution in Africa will require substantial collective effort.

“Thankfully, there is growing awareness and commitment from a broad range of international partners – national governments, international and regional institutions, the private sector, universities, and others – who firmly believe that African farmers can play a key role in feeding the world while protecting the planet. There is much work that hasn’t been done. But having a goal is not just noble – it is necessary.”

The role of phosphorus

Leading research institutes have called for the remaining global rock phosphate resources to be fairly distributed, especially in Africa where countries have historically have had little access to mineral phosphorus fertilisers.

France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment and Bordeaux Sciences Agro said farmers’ global use of mineral phosphorus fertilisers has greatly increased soil phosphorus fertility and, consequently, crop yields.

However, these fertilisers are made from rock phosphate, a non-renewable resource that is patchily distributed across the Earth, and African countries have had little access to it.

“In contrast, African countries have historically had little access to mineral phosphorus fertilisers even though their soils are often highly deficient in phosphorus, which limits food and agricultural production. The remaining rock phosphate resources must be fairly distributed, prioritising countries with the greatest need so as to promote global food security,” reads the research report.

“Plants need phosphorus to grow. Researchers at INRAE and Bordeaux Sciences Agro have modeled, for each country, the fraction of soil-available phosphorus that is derived from the use of mineral phosphorus fertiliser. However, this global data hides dramatic differences among regions.”

According to the researchers, phosphorus occurs naturally in soils, but its levels and relative availability vary by global region and soil type.

“Since the 1950s, the use of mineral phosphorus fertilisers has boosted soil-available phosphorus and, thus, agricultural yields. However, these fertilisers are created via the mining and chemical processing of rock phosphate, a non-renewable natural resource that is unevenly distributed across the globe.

“For example, 70 percent of rock phosphate is in Morocco, while there is almost none to be found in Europe. Furthermore, the transformation of rock phosphate releases large amounts of pollution.”

Researchers agree that at current rates of extraction, the world will likely reach peak phosphorus by 2050.

“Such will probably lead to an increase in fertiliser prices and greater geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, it is essential to clarify how past and present patterns of mineral phosphorus fertiliser usage have affected the dependence of current agricultural systems on this finite resource.”

The scientists have since developed a model to simulate country-specific patterns of soil-available phosphorus in agricultural systems worldwide.