Call for aid to tackle degradation of African soil

NIGERIAN President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday called for aid to help combat the “severe degradation” of three-quarters of African farmland, a leading cause of hunger and poverty on the continent.

Mr Obasanjo’s plea for aid came in tandem with the release of a study by the Alabama-based non-governmental International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agriculture Development.

The study found that continued stripping of nutrients from the soil in Africa will heighten poverty and famine there.

“Our quest is to nourish the African soil and feed the continent,” said Mr Obasanjo, who is also the chairman of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development implementing committee, a planning arm of the African Union.

“Americans spend only about 10 cents of each dollar on food, so they have 90 cents for other things, but in Africa many families spend three-quarters of their income on food.”

One-in-three Africans is undernourished in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, where the same plots of soil have been severely over-farmed to meet growing demand for food.

Mr Obasanjo said that by 2050, Africa’s population will swell by a projected 1.3 billion people - an increase that will further strain already inadequate resources.

“We need the strong support of the international development community,” Mr Obasanjo said at a news conference held at the Rockefeller Foundation, which sponsored the event.

He said that $64 billion (€52.8bn) would be needed annually for NEPAD’s programs, which include the agriculture initiative.

But experts at the event said that figure could be reduced if farm yield is higher and less food is imported. Soil improvement, however, is the first necessary step, they said.

The study released yesterday warned that “continued nutrient mining of soils would mean a future of even increased poverty, food insecurity, environmental damage, and social and political instability”.

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