A one week International conference has commenced today in the capital City of Kenya, Nairobi to discuss how best to manage the soils of Africa for increased food and crop productivity.
FAO statistics in 2009 show that in terms of cereal food supply, Northern Africa and Southern Africa had the highest per capita supply of about 216 and 177 kg per capita per year while Western, Eastern, and Middle Africa had cereal supply statistics of 147, 117 and 103 kg per capita per year respectively.
Learning from experiences elsewhere, China's total grain production was a little over 100 million tons in 1949 and reached 500 million tons in 1998 according to the Chinese National Bureau of China (2009).
Africa’s cereal production in 2010 was 156 million tons with western Africa leading at 49 million tons, followed by Eastern Africa 46 million tons, Northern Africa at 39 million tons, Southern Africa at 15 million tons and Middle Africa at 7 million tons.
The cereal productivity follows a different trend with Southern Africa leading with a productivity index of 3.5 tons per hectare; Northern Africa, 1.8 tons; Eastern Africa 1.5 tons; Western Africa at 1.1 tons; and Middle Africa at 0.9 tons.
In China, the grain production per capita increased from about 200 kg per capita in 1949 to about 400 kg in the early 1990s. Hunger as a social problem largely disappeared after being prevalent in China for several thousands of years with the rise and fall of dynasties.
This achievement was accompanied by a 2.5-fold increase in the population and a 4.5-fold increase in total grain production. The use of improved hybrid seeds for rice and maize, and the alleviation of salinized soil stress in the major grain-producing areas all played significant roles in increasing China's food production capability.
The Chinese success can only be emulated if Africa was to overcome the perennial hunger episodes that it experiences periodically. It is with this in mind that Soil Scientists from all over the World are gathering in Kenya to compare notes on successes that could contribute to breaking the food productivity barrier in Africa.
Africa is currently only producing on average about 1.5 tons per hectare of maize compared to more than 8 tons per hectare in the Asian countries that realized the green revolution in the 1970s.
In the 2006, the African Heads of States met in Abuja Nigeria and agreed that each country in Sub Saharan Africa works towards making their farmers use at least 50 kg of fertilizers from the then average of 8 kg per hectare. This was supposed to address the food shortages on the continent and make the continent self sufficient in food production. Some of the papers to be presented will benchmark the current status of fertilizer use while others will provide information on solutions while others will discuss constraints.
Among the topics to be discussed are break-through technologies including the use of soil biota to curb crop diseases; use of soil biota to increase soil fertility; use of integrated soil fertility management, including the use of mineral fertilizers, use of organic fertilizers, use of improved higher yielding seeds, use of legumes as green manures, etc.
Also to be discussed are the roles of marketing and markets in stimulating food production, use of ICT to reach millions of farmers and policy instruments to radically change the continents food production scenario and thereby bridge the food insecurity gap.
Among the Scientists to present key note speeches are: Dr. Joanna Dames of the Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa; Dr. Felix D. Dakora of Cape Technikon, Cape Town, South Africa; Prof. Ken Giller of Wageningen University, The Netherlands; Dr Ademola Braimoh of the World Bank, Washington D.C., USA; Teresah N. Wafullah, of the Africa Knowledge Transfer Partnership with MEA Limited and Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak of National Council of Science and Technology of Kenya.
Some of the interventions to be presented include: advancing plant-microbe interactions in crop nutrition; enhancing biological nitrogen fixation in African farming systems; building capacity in Integrated Soil Fertility Management; breakthroughs in inoculation; exploring options for sustainable intensification and diversification of farming systems; soil biota in ecosystems management; bio-prospecting tools; strain selection and delivery; identifying bottlenecks and opportunities for implementation of integrated soil fertility management; and commercializing breakthrough technologies. These will be based on cutting-edge research being conducted on the continent and elsewhere in the world.
The conference will also host a Policy Discussion Forum where policy makers from different countries and scientists will engage each other in a Panel discussion to suggest policy recommendations that are aimed at providing some suggested direction on how the African governments as well as Donors could contribute to alleviating the problem of food on the continent.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the Convener of the policy forum.
The conference is sponsored by among others: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), the N2Africa Project, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), United States International University (USIU), University of Nairobi, The National Council for Science and Technology of Kenya, MEA Fertilizers of Kenya, Commercial Product Project (COMPRO), African Network on Mycorrhiza (AFRINOM), The Africa Soil Health Consortium of CABI, and African Association for Biological Nitrogen Fixation (AABNF).