Comprendre les enjeux de l'agriculture

Soil degradation in Africa jeopardizes its food security and the sustainability of its development. The continent has lost fifty million hectares of fertile land in 50 years. Each year, the continent loses more than $4 billion in soil nutrients. Grain yields are four times lower than the global average. Contributing factors to this degradation include erosion, salinization, deforestation, and over-exploitation of land. The lack of crop rotation exacerbates the problem. During the African Summit on Fertilizers and Soil Health, African leaders expressed their commitment to restoring the nutritional balance of the continent’s soils. This meeting, titled “Listening to the Earth,” took place from May 7 to 9, 2024, in Nairobi, Kenya, and gathered over 4,000 participants, including ministers of agriculture, scientists, private sector representatives, and NGOs.


Soil Degradation

Soil depletion is Africa’s major challenge. Traditional agricultural practices, such as intensive monoculture and excessive use of chemical fertilizers, rapidly deplete soil nutrients. This leads to decreased land productivity, making farmers increasingly dependent on expensive fertilizers. The continent has reportedly lost 650,000 km² of fertile land in fifty years. The rainfall deficit weakens soil protection, reduces vegetation cover, and eventually causes soil drying. Remote sensing and satellite imagery show that 70 to 80% of the continent’s cultivated areas are degraded, with nutrient losses of 30 to 60 kg per hectare per year. The 2019 IPCC report on climate-soil relations is also particularly alarming: 46% of African lands suffer from degradation, potentially affecting the living conditions of 485 million people.

Agricultural practices bear some responsibility. Poor farming practices exacerbate erosion, salinization, and soil acidification processes. Fallow lands are disappearing massively in densely populated areas. The proportion of fallow land relative to the total agricultural land in Africa has decreased from 40% in 1960 to about 10% in 2022. This means that the actual unused and potentially arable land is approximately not 105 million but around 50 million hectares.


Impact on Yields and the Environment

The yields of major cereal crops stagnate on average at less than 25% of their potential yield. It is estimated that over the past 30 years, on about 200 million hectares of cultivated land in 37 African countries, soil fertility depletion per hectare has averaged 660 kg of nitrogen, 75 kg of phosphorus, and 450 kg of potassium (AGRA, 2023). This situation is attributed to the low use of organic and mineral fertilizers on soils often very poor in nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Analysis of agricultural yield gaps reveals that the yields of most agricultural products in Africa are significantly lower than the global average. Currently, the production of a well-managed West African dairy cow is about 500-1,000 liters per year, while a Normandy cow produces about 6,700 liters, and an Israeli or Saudi cow produces 12,000 liters (AGRA, 2023). For cereals, yield gaps often range from 1 to 4.5. The productivity of fruit crops (about 5 tons per hectare) in East Africa, coastal West African countries, and Central Africa is only about half the international average.

Soil degradation in Africa has harmful environmental consequences and adverse socio-economic impacts. The decline in soil fertility leads to a reduction in biodiversity. Desertification and soil depletion contribute to rural exodus, unemployment, and worsening poverty. African states appear to have recognized the extreme severity of their soil degradation, as evidenced by the Nairobi Declaration.


The Twelve Commitments of the Nairobi Declaration

During the Summit, African heads of state and government adopted the Nairobi Declaration on Fertilizers and Soil Health. Twelve key commitments were made to preserve and restore the health of African soils:

1. Triple the production and distribution of certified quality fertilizers by 2034. Increasing national production and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilizers is essential to improve access and affordability for small farmers.

2. Provide targeted agronomic recommendations to small farmers. By 2034, it is essential to provide specific recommendations on crops, soils, and climatic conditions to improve the efficiency and sustainable use of fertilizers.

3. Support natural gas-based fertilizer production efforts. It is important to encourage member states producing natural gas to increase their fertilizer production, ensuring availability at stable prices.

4. Reverse land degradation and restore soil health. Swift action is crucial to reverse land degradation, aiming to restore soil health on at least 30% of degraded soils by 2034.

5. Full operationalization of the African Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM). The AFFM will play a crucial role in supporting the production, supply, and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilizers and soil health interventions.

6. Mobilize financial and technical resources by the African Union Commission. The AU Commission is tasked with mobilizing financial and technical resources in collaboration with existing climate funds to achieve the commitments made.

7. Develop favorable policies and regulations. Formulating and implementing policies and regulations that encourage fertilizer and soil health interventions is essential for creating an enabling environment for these improvements.

8. Strengthen national capacities in fertilizer and soil health practices and technologies. Developing national capacities in fertilizer and soil health management practices and technologies adapted to local specificities is important.

9. Promote African solidarity through knowledge sharing and training. Promoting African solidarity is essential through knowledge sharing, training, and the transfer of best practices in soil fertility and health.

10. Ensure access to extension and advisory services. It is crucial to ensure small farmers have access to quality extension services on fertilizers and soil health from both the public and private sectors.

11. Integrate Declaration recommendations into national agricultural investment plans. The recommendations of the Declaration must be integrated into national agricultural investment plans to ensure effective implementation.

12. Mobilize adequate financial resources. Finance ministers must mobilize and allocate adequate financial resources to implement the Declaration’s recommendations.

In addition to the Nairobi Declaration, a ten-year Action Plan and the Action Plan Financing Mechanism (AFFM) were approved during the Summit. These ambitious initiatives aim to systematically improve the health and productivity of soils in Africa.