Food security in Africa will remain elusive with isolated successes, fueling a sense of false optimism in an otherwise dismal situation unless decisive actions are taken to assist small-scale farmers to grow more and more valuable crops, according to the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Nteranya Sanginga.

Addressing participants at the Crawford Fund annual conference in Australia, Dr Sanginga noted that in spite of the progress made in crop improvement, low soil fertility and nutrient depletion continue to present huge obstacles to securing the needed harvests. The Director General’s position is supported by recent studies by IITA in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa that show that majority of the soils in that region are now barren with very little fertility. The barren soils are a result of years of mining and insufficient replacement of nutrients by smallholder farmers, mostly practicing low-input agriculture.

Dr Sanginga suggested the adoption of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) which is defined as ‘the application of soil fertility management practices, and the knowledge to adapt these to local conditions, which optimize fertilizer and organic resource use efficiency and crop productivity.’ ISFM is also the topic of an ongoing international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where the Institute’s natural resource management specialists and experts, including the DG, are attending.

Dr Sanginga said that ISFM presented a means to overcome the dilemma of low productivity, by offering farmers better returns for investment in fertilizer, through its combination with indigenous agro-minerals and available organic resources. He, however, pointed out that disseminating the knowledge of ISFM and developing incentives for its adoption now stand as a challenge for national planners and rural development specialists, and if done efficiently would result in more productive and sustainable agriculture, improved household and regional food security, and increased incomes among small-scale farmers.

The Africa Union’s Abuja declaration on fertilizers for an African Green Revolution, which has stated that efforts to reduce hunger on the continent must begin by addressing its severely depleted soils, recommends countries to increase fertilizer use from the current 8kg/ha to at least 50 kg/ha by 2015 to boost agricultural production.

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