IFDC: banking on data to develop sustainable food value chains

International Fertiliser Development Centre (IDC) Kenya Programmes Manager Sebastian Nduva

For a start, give us a brief overview of the IFDC organisation?

IFDC is a science-based public international organisation with headquarters in Alabama USA working to alleviate global hunger by introducing improved agricultural practices and fertilizer technologies to farmers and by linking farmers to markets.

It got started in 1974 with the specific mandate of soil health issues around the world. Our activities are mostly in the developing part of the world that is Africa, South East Asia and do have about 13 offices here in Africa, all running different programmes. And talking of programmes, we have those that are geared towards smallholder farmers scaling up small businesses that are in the agricultural value chain. We also have programmes in the market information systems.

Now, coming straight to the trends especially on fertiliser usage in Africa in the last ten years, what does it look like? Has there been a higher adoption of fertilisers? How has the impact on agriculture?

Fertilizer usage in Africa is the lowest in the world. To be precise, we are only at about 3 per cent of the global consumption. If you look at the figures cumulatively, the world consumes about 200 million metric tonnes of nutrients. Africa is lagging behind. That is why in 2006, the heads of state in Africa met at the Abuja Summit, where a 12-step resolution was passed to increase the usage of fertiliser. At that time on average, Africa consumed about 8 kilogrammes per hectare of nutrient tonnes as opposed to the global average of about 120 kilogrammes per hectare of nutrients, with Asia clocking about 300 kilogrammes per hectare in nutrient tonnes. Having said that, the resolution was to increase the usage to a level of about 17 kilogrammes per hectare by 2015. Sadly, this has not been achieved by most African states. As we speak right now, the latest report from the African Union Commission (AUC) published in quarter one of this year shows only about five countries in Africa have been able to hit the target of 50 kilogrammes per hectare and leaving a lot to be desired.

And since we have precisely captured the crisis around the optimum utilisation of fertiliser on the continent, what is the way forward? What actually is IFDC doing around reversing the negative trend?

It means that most African countries will have to either put in place policies that are favourable to the adoption of more fertiliser and also knowledge transfer in the form of extension services in the continent.

As IFDC, since the first summit of African heads of state in 2006, we came together with other partners including the International Fertiliser Association to develop a market systems initiative dubbed Africaferliser.org whose mandate is to illuminate the fertiliser market in sub-Saharan Africa. We track various data sets including consumption figures, trade statistics on what is imported or exported, and even fertiliser use by crops in the region. In this way, IFDC has been able to track the progress of the market all through. Even to date as the world is going through a fertiliser crisis, IFDC’s role is being a knowledge authority in terms of how the regional or world market performs. In addition, we have been working with governments in the last 30 years to develop market subsidies, we have come up with programs that are geared towards best practices in fertilizer usage on the continent. And most recently, we have also been working with blending companies to come up with bespoke fertilizer formulations suited specifically to African soil.

When it comes to Kenya, we are talking about how many regions or counties your initiatives have been able to reach.

IFDC has both regional and country-specific programmes. The programmes that we run in Kenya are across different value chains. We work with different value chains depending on the value chain in focus.

And given that you are very active on international forums revolving around improving food security on the continent, what did the just concluded Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue seek to achieve?

The dialogue was organized around fostering bold decisions for food security, specifically in the developing world. Our participation as IFDC in that dialogue was basically to highlight how the different markets in the world are coping with the current fertiliser crisis and what interventions are governments, especially in Africa putting in place towards promoting fertiliser usage to curb the food security crisis on the continent.

What is your role in promoting climate-smart agriculture practices to boost sustainable productivity in Africa and Kenya in particular?

Through the different programmes, we have been championing climate-smart technologies and more resilient agricultural systems by working with the private sector globally to provide technical perspectives on the use of more climate-smart fertiliser formulations across different countries in Africa.

IFDC has just hosted the 2022 board of directors meeting in Alabama. What does it mean for Africa and Kenya in particular?

That highest decision-making organ has just passed resolutions geared towards a green revolution in Africa which has been long in coming. Having a green revolution as a milestone for Africa will mean we are able to feed our own people and the rest of the world. The latest UN report highlights that by the year 2050, the population of Africa will be double. Will only feed this population by implementing activities and programmes that are geared towards food security.

How does Africa fertiliser.org (AFO) work push forward IFDC's agenda?

AFO is the data arm for IFDC and as IFDC works towards the next green revolution and in improving fertiliser and soil health issues within the continent, AFO will be guiding IFDC not only in tracking the fertiliser market but also in crowding in the partners needed to work towards sustainable fertiliser production and application.

We now turn to the Africa Fertiliser and Soil health summit in 2023 and what it is all about.

The summit happening next year seeks to lay down a 10-year roadmap that will see the twelve resolutions passed in Abuja back in 2006 and the others passed in Malabo 2015 being actualised. Some of these resolutions seek to address issues to do with optimum fertiliser usage, others also seek to address how fertiliser value chains are being financed, among other areas of concern for the continent.

From the IFDC standpoint, what have you fathomed can be the most effective way to ensure sustainable fertiliser usage in Africa especially given the good data you have come to accumulate?

From our day-to-day job of tracking the market systems through africafertiliser.org, what has stood out for us over the years is the need for a collaborative approach to fertiliser usage. Farmers left to their own devices will most often be in dark about proper fertiliser application mechanisms. That is why the private sector and government will need to be involved to foster an enabling environment.

What do the next ten years look like for African food systems with IFDC at the centre?

From where I sit, I would say it is a very optimistic outlook given there is a lot of goodwill from the different partners we work including governments to support the development of the agriculture sector. There is goodwill from the financiers to support the agricultural value chains and a lot of goodwill from research institutions to capacity-build farmers from the ground level.

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