Nigeria’s 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.
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 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. 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,” Obasanjo said at a news conference held at the Rockefeller Foundation, which sponsored the event.
He said that $64bn (€53bn) 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”.
It found that Africa imported 43 million metric tons of cereals in 2003 at a cost of $7.5bn (€6.2bn) to try to meet the demands of the continent’s population.
While farmers had traditionally rotated crops every season, farming in different areas to allow the nutrients in the soil to be replenished, the study found that population pressure has led to repeated use of the soil, robbing it of its nutrients.
The study said African leaders face significant challenges in revamping development policies to make low-cost fertilisers available and improve farmers’ access to information and markets for their products.
But the more difficult tasks identified by the study are boosting investments in roads and other infrastructure and combating rampant corruption – all of which are impeding economic growth and self-sufficiency efforts.
Obasanjo said his nation has made significant improvements with infrastructure and education, as well as being especially vigilant in fighting corruption.
“We have dealt with everybody who needs to be dealt with, there is no sacred cow, we have no friend or foe,” he said, adding that a number of government and police officials had been fired and prosecuted due to corruption.
The study highlighted fertilisers as a key to solving the crop yield problem.
African leaders have expressed hope that NEPAD’s Africa Fertiliser Summit in June in Abuja, Nigeria, would help develop methods to meet a goal of raising farm yield by 6 percent annually by 2015.