Organic farming will not feed growing African population

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Johannesburg, 09 February 2016 - Subsistence farmer transplanting his vegetables, at a nearby open field, the community converted for commercial farming.

Johannesburg, 09 February 2016 - Subsistence farmer transplanting his vegetables, at a nearby open field, the community converted for commercial farming.

WEB_PHOTO_FARMING_090216.jpg

Johannesburg, 09 February 2016 - Subsistence farmer transplanting his vegetables, at a nearby open field, the community converted for commercial farming.

Johannesburg, 09 February 2016 - Subsistence farmer transplanting his vegetables, at a nearby open field, the community converted for commercial farming.

NAIROBI – Soil experts gathered in Nairobi for the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum have on Thursday, said that Africa has no choice but to use quality fertilisers to improve the soil quality to produce enough food.

The experts said that Africa cannot rely on organic farming to feed the rapidly growing population which is expected to hit two billion people by 2050.

The scientists said that soil is the starting point of any form of agriculture and asked governments to invest heavily in research and teaching on soil science in order to generate new innovative ways of reviving Africa’s declining soil fertility.

Speaking at a special session to launch a seminal publication by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), on soil health in Africa called “Going Beyond Demos to Transform African Agriculture”, the soil scientists said that time had come to scale up soil health technologies in Africa.

AGRA who are the conveners of the larger Forum being held at the United Nations Complex in Nairobi said that farming in Africa called for concerted collaboration between scientists and non-scientists in order to deliver real transformation for smallholder farmers and the continent.

AGRA President Agnes Kalibata challenged the soil scientists to create a mechanism that can enable the academic knowledge and research to reach the smallholder farmers as most of them do not have the requisite information to help them improve on their farming.

Kalibata caused laughter when she said it was peculiar that East Africans are taught about Vasco da Gama in primary school but nothing about the soil structure of their countries, yet most of them live off the soil as small scale farmers.

A hot debate ensued between the panellists and the participants over a remark that “Africa’s soils are in intensive care unit”.

Comments from the floor seemed to lean on agreement that Africa’s main failure was on policy issues and not on lack of capacity alone.

Speaking to African News Agency after the launch of the publication, the keynote speaker Amitava Roy said that much of Africa’s soil is chemically “nutrient deficient” and must therefore rely on fertiliser to make it healthy and productive.

“The Green revolution starts with healthy soils. Africa’s native soil is very low in nutrient content and needs external input from both organic matter as well as fertiliser,” said Roy.

Roy said African governments have a responsibility to support farmers through provision of proper infrastructure, credit facilities, farming inputs, such as fertiliser and labour-saving tools.

Commenting on the high cost of fertilisers, Roy said that the physical infrastructure such as road transport systems in Africa were some of the reasons why fertiliser prices were high.

“The facilitation structure around the packaging and delivery of fertiliser to the farmers as well as market rules of supply and demand make fertiliser costly to local farmers,” said Roy adding that government’s should protect farmers against prohibitive inputs.

Roy said that the teaching of farming in colleges in Africa should adapt the whole value chain from soil preparation to marketing of the produce as opposed to the longstanding practice of pure agronomics.

The Africa Green Revolution Forum has brought together over 2000 agricultural experts, policy makers and private partners and funders together to discuss and commit to the transformation of agriculture in Africa. The meeting ends on Friday.