African countries agree major soil fertiliser deal to combat food crisis

JUN 1, 2023 LISTEN

Seventeen countries in West Africa and the Sahel have agreed a deal to make soil fertilisers more accessible and affordable. The region, heavily dependent on imports, is facing a major food crisis that has been exacerbated by climate change.

The "Lomé Declaration on Fertilizers and Soil Health" was approved after two days of talks in Togo by country leaders and other representatives.

Officials from the regional body Ecowas and the World Bank were also in attendance.

Host Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé called for a “community vision” to find the best solutions to feed some 500 million people across West Africa.

“We need to find the right balance, a good strategy, but above all, we need to be organised and coordinated. As illustrated by the roadmap presented today, our vision must be sub-regional above all,” he said.

Leaders in West Africa and the Sahel pledged to consider soil health as a “critical pillar of food security” and committed to tripling fertiliser consumption by 2035 in order to step up agricultural productivity.

Several measures were announced to help small farmers who will benefit from subsidies to obtain mineral and organic fertilisers to meet their urgent needs.

Cut the red tape

“The first thing is mobilisation and political commitment. The states are ready to commit to managing the issue,” Alain Sy Traoré, director of agriculture and rural development at Ecowas said, adding infrastructure needed to be reinforced to develop local production.

Ecoàwas says it is stepping up actions to promote climate-smart agriculture and the use of organic fertilisers while emphasising and supporting the development of local and regional value chains.

According to the declaration, signatory states will progressively eliminate customs duties and taxes on fertilisers and simplify processes for imports, customs and administration.

Other immediate measures announced include more investment in port, storage and transport infrastructure. There was also a call to end public-private partnerships before the end of 2025 to boost the trade between states in the region and create local jobs.

For its part, the World Bank announced an additional $1.5 billion for the agricultural sector by 2024, on top of the $4 billion already committed.

Climate change

Many countries across Africa are facing a food crisis exacerbated by civil war and the affects of climate change.

In a new report released earlier this week, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said many of the countries on highest alert for food insecurity are on the African continent, such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

The organisations also said that  a likely El Nino climatic phenomenon is raising fears of climate extremes in vulnerable countries, leading to an impact on agricultural practices and resources.

El Nino is the large-scale warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

The "expected shift in climate patterns will have significant implications for several hotspots", the report warned.

Those include "consecutive extreme climatic events hitting areas of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa".