Ruto calls for affordable fertiliser to boost food production

President William Ruto (left) arrives for the Africa Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit held at the KICC, Nairobi. [X/Ruto]

President William Ruto said on Thursday that Africa has committed to triple domestic production and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilisers, to reach 70 per cent of small-holder farmers across the continent.

Ruto announced that the continent had pledged to enhance access and affordability of fertiliser for smallholder farmers, providing them with targeted agronomic recommendations tailored to specific crops, soils and climatic conditions.

“This aims to promote greater efficiency and sustainable use of fertilisers. Concerning soil health, we have committed to reversing land degradation and restoring soil health on at least 30 per cent of degraded soil by 2033,” said Ruto.

Speaking during the closing of the African Fertiliser Soil Health Summit at the KICC, Nairobi, the President said participants committed to fully operationalise the Africa Fertiliser Financing Mechanism to improve the production, procurement, and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilisers, and soil health interventions.

He asked the governments in Africa to create an enabling environment to attract more private sector investments and called upon the African Union Commission and African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDA-NEPAD) to support Member States in implementing the commitments in the Nairobi Declaration.

“We call upon the private sector to increase investments in Africa’s fertiliser industry and promote sustainable soil management practices. We also appeal to our development partners to support governments and regional economic communities in adopting best fertiliser and soil management practices,” said Ruto.

Under The Nairobi Declarations, the fertiliser summit endorsed the Fertiliser and Soil Health Action Plan and the Soil Initiative for Africa Framework as key guiding documents.

The plan seeks to harness multi-stakeholder partnerships and investments to drive policies, finance, research and development, markets, and capacity building for fertiliser and sustainable soil health management in Africa.

The summit brought together the African Union's (AU) top officials, the continent's players in agriculture, international development partners, experts and individuals in the fertiliser industry in the continent.

In attendance were President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and African Union chairperson, Zambian President Hakainde Hichelima, Prime Minister of Burundi Gervais Ndirakobuca and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Others were President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President of Malawi Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa and President of Namibia Nangolo Mbumba.

Ruto said Africa is heavily reliant on food imports, highlighting the little progress made decades after the Abuja declaration.

He regretted that across Africa, people were facing serious challenges in agricultural production including inadequate fertiliser application, extreme climate adversities such as flooding, drought, and extensive land degradation.

“Recent global economic crises, compounded by supply chain disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical dynamics, have worsened fertiliser affordability and availability, and disrupted agriculture, resulting in reduced acreage and lower yields,” said President Ruto.

He noted that the fluctuating fertiliser prices and supply chain disruptions, exacerbated by conflict in producing regions, demand deep reflection on securing adequate, affordable, and sustainable fertiliser production and supply across Africa.

Ruto emphasized that Africa’s focus should not only be on increasing fertiliser usage but also on ensuring its judicious application to revitalise responsive soils and rehabilitate degraded ones.

“It is encouraging to see several African nations making strides in fertiliser production, particularly phosphate fertilisers,” he said.

However, the Head of State said the absence of nitrogen fertiliser production plants, due to high capital requirements, underscores the need for regional investment collaboration to enhance self-sufficiency in fertiliser manufacturing.

The president called for a common strategy, collective action, joint investment, and logistical collaboration to ensure every arable acre of Africa's land receives the right type and quantity of fertiliser.

“This transformation will shift our agricultural production from deficit to surplus. My case is bolstered by direct and irrefutable evidence from Kenya’s investment in food security and agro-industrial productivity under the bottom-up economic transformation agenda,” he said.

Ruto told the African delegates that three years ago, Kenya’s national food production was low, primarily due to high input costs with only 30 million bags against a normal production of 40 million bags in 2022.

“To turn this situation around, we decided to make inputs, especially fertiliser, more accessible and affordable. This initiative resulted in a harvest of 61 million bags of maize in 2023. We achieved this by leveraging technology, utilising an integrated digital platform that registered over 6 million farmers,” said Ruto.

Today, the President noted that more land was now under cultivation, with each acre yielding higher production due to the availability and affordability of fertilizer.

“More importantly, farmers across the country receive soil-specific fertiliser formulations in adequate quantities, resulting in unmistakable differences and encouraging progress,” he said.