Feature Story | 2-Jul-2024

The dust has settled on the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit: “What next…?” asks CABI’s development chief

The dust has settled on the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit and Dr Dennis Rangi, CABI’s Director General – Development, says “What next for the sustainable and responsible use of fertilizer to help feed Africa’s rapidly growing population


The dust has settled on the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit and Dr Dennis Rangi, CABI’s Director General – Development, says “What next for the sustainable and responsible use of fertilizer to help feed Africa’s rapidly growing population?”

In this article, Dr Rangi outlines how we must embrace digital data and tools to triple Africa’s use if we are to work towards the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger and feed an African population expected to reach 2.4 billion by 2050.

The sustainable increase in fertilizer use in African agriculture needs to take place to meet the pledge outlined in the Nairobi Declaration and signed by African heads of state at the close of the summit, held in Nairobi, Kenya, last May.

According to the African Union Development Agency, more than 485 million Africans – around 65% of the population – are living in the shadow of degraded cultivated land where the prospects of growing enough quality food are poor.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that up to 40% of crop yields are lost to pests and diseases as well as the impacts of climate change such as extreme weather events including severe floods and/or drought.

Help end hunger and poverty

Africa’s 33 million smallholder farmers – in needing to double agricultural production and meet the growing demand for more nutritious fruit and vegetables  – must triple fertilizer use on the continent over the next decade.

The 2006 Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution identified the critical need for Africa to increase the use of fertilizer. However, fertilizer consumption has only increased from an average of 8kg/ha to about 18kg/ha in 2022, which is less than half of the target of 50kg/ha set in the declaration.

The African-based members of the Association of International Research and Development Centres for Agriculture (AIRCA), of which CABI is a member, agree that greater use of digital data and tools can increase fertilizer use for improved soil quality and food security.

At CABI we realize the power of partnerships, and this was highlighted recently when we won the FAO Partnership Award 2024 in recognition of our effective partnerships that contribute to achieving sustainable development around the world.

Embrace the power of digital data and tools

I believe that central to the solution for improved soil quality and food security is the need, in partnership, to embrace the power of digital data and tools so smallholder farmers can have the best information and advice on how to sustainably use fertilizer as part of an integrated crop management (ICM) approach to agriculture.

ICM, is a sustainable agricultural production system that improves overall crop health with minimal impact on the environment. A system like ICM can form an important component for an Integrated Landscape Management approach.

An ILM approach refers to long-term collaboration among diverse stakeholders to foster natural resource resilience at the landscape level.

Through careful participatory planning and adaptive strategies involving all stakeholders, ILM ensures resilience to environmental challenges while fostering harmonious coexistence between nature and human activities.

Indeed, the African Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan and the Soil Initiative for Africa Framework, which set out plans to build healthy soils, states that food production should be done with less impact on the environment already affected by ecosystem degradation and erosion exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

We must understand, collectively, that such strategies must include crop rotations, no-till practices, the diligent use of organic and commercial fertilizers, and improved water management. And this is where digital data can play a significant part.

At CABI we recognize the value of soil data. At the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit, we highlighted a CABI-led review of national Soil Information Systems (SIS) in seven countries in Africa – as well as the USA, New Zealand, and Australia.

Challenge of using fertilizer more efficiently

CABI moderated a side event at the summit, entitled ‘Strengthening National Soil Information Systems – A Framework for Sustainable SIS Intervention Design.’

We spoke about how investments in data generation and infrastructure have made large strides towards improving soil health and farmer livelihoods. Improved data on soil health can help contribute to the challenge of using fertilizer more efficiently.

Investments in data generation and infrastructure have enabled large strides towards improving soil health and farmer livelihoods.

And although the value of these assets and technologies are well-recognized by soil experts, there is a need to encourage greater intentionality and efficiency in the development of data assets, and to be more responsive and adaptive to local demand for soil information.

CABI has seen, through its work as part of the Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations for Africa (OFRA) project, coordinated by CABI and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the benefit of innovative tools to help farmers maximise their profits from investments in fertilizers.

The project, which sought to empower 50 million African families in 13 countries, created innovations, such as the the Fertilizer Optimization Tool and the Fertilizer Calibration Tool, to make the most efficient and effective use of fertilizer in agricultural production.

The Fertilizer Optimization Tool helps farmers optimize fertilizer use. For example, it optimizes across various crop-nutrient functions and allocates available money to the crop-nutrient-rate options that is likely to give the most profit. The Fertilizer Calibration Tool ensures the correct means and rate of application, for fertilizer, manure or other input.

Integrated Soil Fertility Management

Furthermore, the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC), a programme managed by CABI, raised awareness on an Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) approach which advocates efficient and effective use of fertilizer, organic inputs and improved seed.

The ASHC created partnerships which developed multi-media, campaign-based approaches, to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farming households through better access to practical information about ISFM.

The African Union has committed, by 2034, to make available to at least 70% of smallholder farmers on the continent, targeted agronomic recommendations for specific crops, soils, and climatic conditions for greater efficiency and sustainable use of fertilizers.

I understand this commitment cannot be achieved by digital data and tools alone, that is why, as outlined in the Nairobi Declaration, we also need to operationalize the Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM) to improve production, procurement, and distribution of organic and inorganic fertilizers, and soil health interventions.

Use of fertilizer must be sustainable and responsible

As outlined in the Nairobi Declaration, we need to develop and promote systematic national capacity building for locally relevant fertilizer and soil health management practices and technologies.

This can be done by creating regional research and development networks for the exchange of knowledge and technologies as well as building, strengthening, and standardizing the fertilizer analysis capacity and services of laboratories.

Fertilizer has a role to play for a more sustainable agricultural sector in Africa, but the clock is ticking on the need to increase its use for greater production. But we recognize that the use of fertilizer must also be done sustainably and responsibly.

We must strike a balance between proportionate fertilizer use on the one hand and on the other avoiding too much use where it can kill the plant or contribute to climate change by adding to the quantity of greenhouse gases present in the environment.

One such approach may be combining chemical fertilizers with more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as biofertilizers which, on application to seed, root or soil, mobilize the availability of nutrients by their biological activity, and help build up the micro-flora and in turn the soil health in general.

Either way, the time to embrace the greater use of digital data and tools to help triple fair, responsible and proportionate fertilizer use for healthier soils and food security on the continent is pertinent and the time to act is now.


Dr Dennis Rangi, Director General – Development, CABI

Dr Rangi has over 30 years of experience in development cooperation including management of scientific research & implementation. He has fulfilled several assignments in developing countries and has a strong understanding of their circumstances and needs.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.