Zim to reclaim status as fertiliser guru President Mnangagwa addresses the African Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, recently.

Richard Muponde
Zimpapers Politics Hub

IN the 1980s, Zimbabwe was primed to be Africa’s fertiliser guru. This was after the then Organisation of African Union, now the Africa Union (AU), helped establish the African Centre for Fertiliser Development (ACFD) in Harare to boost research, training and production of fertiliser.

After lying dormant for decades, the project is set to be rejuvenated, following President Mnangagwa’s recent visit to Kenya to attend the African Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit in Nairobi.

The AU summit resolved to revive and bankroll the ACFD in Harare. The ACFD seeks to support the fertiliser sector in Africa and coordinate projects at national, regional and international levels in the adaptation, testing and demonstration of improved fertiliser production.

President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe stood to benefit immensely from the renewal of the continental centre. The President said the ACFD is the panacea for new fertiliser development, compatible with the ageing African soils and effects of climate change to improve crop yields and save the continent billions of dollars in fertiliser and food imports.

During the 1980s, the ACFD was established in Zimbabwe through an AU protocol to train, provide technological transfer, support research and demonstrate the role of fertilisers to improve agriculture and fertiliser management practices.

The Opec Fund for International Development allocated a grant for the establishment of the Centre in 1983 and to meet part of the initial cost of the ACFD’s construction and operating expenses.

The amount of US$50 000 was utilised for operating costs, and US$250 000 for the construction of the centre, which started in April 1993, and completed in January 1994.

However, the centre had become a white elephant.

Addressing delegates at the closure of the Africa Fertiliser and Soils Summit, President Mnangagwa said African leaders were unanimous in approving funding for the centre.

He said the centre seeks to stop dependence on the global North, from where the continent is importing the bulk of its fertiliser, spending billions of US dollars in the process.

A Nairobi Declaration, Soil Initiative for Africa Framework, and the Africa Fertilisers Soil Health 10-year Action Plan was also launched at the Summit.

The summit that ran under the theme: “Listen to the Land”, had outcomes that included a 10-year Action Plan, to deliver concrete action for steps to be taken by African leaders and stakeholders over the next 10 years.

Africa has been reeling from low fertiliser use and poor soil health, undermining sustainable agriculture production and productivity, particularly among communal and smallholder farmers.

The continental leaders’ decision to rejuvenate the ACFD and the setting up of a fertiliser fund by the Africa Development Bank was welcomed by the Zimbabwean leadership, agricultural experts and farmers as it has put the country in line to be the African hub of fertiliser production, research and training.

President Mnangagwa said he was excited that the rest of Africa has come forward to fund it and achieve its mandate.

“It has been dormant, in my view, but now the rest of Africa has realised that it is necessary to capacitate it, that is to provide funding from the AU to make sure that it provides services for which it was created and I am happy that we host the continental centre,” President Mnangagwa said.

He said the ACFD remains a critical cog in promoting research on soil health and fertiliser development.

“We, thus, welcome the commitment to fully operationalise and support the Africa Centre for Fertiliser Development, which was the brainchild of our august body and whose strategic mandate is aligned with the agenda of this summit.”

The revitalisation of the ACFD was described by local agricultural experts and farmers as the panacea to Africa’s poor yields caused by imported fertilisers which do not suit local soils.

Prominent agronomist and fertiliser expert, Mr Irvine Craig, said the decision by African leaders to rejuvenate the ACFD was a noble idea, which will encourage good yields in Africa and help achieve food security.

“It’s a very good idea. Let me start by saying we already have the faculty in the country. I don’t know why it didn’t take off. It was a white elephant. Its revival is sweet news because we need to have our own fertilisers which suit our soil type and the nutritional imbalances,’ Mr Craig said.

“It will also bring down the prices of fertilisers as we now maximise our local resources. If the cost of fertilisers come down farmers also won’t compromise in fertiliser application and put below stipulated levels. This will improve yields, quality and food for security for Africa. It’s a very noble idea.”

Mashonaland Central province, senior agronomist and specialist in tobacco small scale contract farming, Mr Lazarus Gatawa said the funding of the centre will help come up with viable initiatives for small holder farmers.

“The revival and funding of the African Centre for Fertiliser Development will go a long way in coming up with viable soil fertility initiatives particularly for the small holder farmers. In light of the El-Nino induced drought and the impacts of climate change, research in fertiliser and soil health will proffer mitigatory initiatives that will suit farmers as it relates to soil management, fertiliser cost and its availability,” Mr   Gatawa said.

“Small scale tobacco farmers will be among the top beneficiaries as soil fertility has become more crucial to their productivity and livelihoods because a healthy and fertile soil gives them a huge potential to attain high yields and premium leaf quality that will fetch an average floor price of above  US$3,50/kg.”

Zimbabwe National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president, Mrs Monica Chinamasa, said the centre is the panacea to fertiliser innovations and it was fulfilling that it is hosted in the country.

“I’m excited about Zimbabwe being the centre for the research in fertiliser and soils. I hope this time it comes to fruition. It’s a great honour indeed, because we are in an agriculture-based economy,” Mrs Chinamasa said.

African leaders said it was unfortunate that low fertiliser use and poor soil health continued to undermine sustainable agriculture production and productivity, particularly among communal and small holder farmers in the                          continent.

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