African Centre for Biodiversity
Dear friends and colleagues
The ACB has today released a synthesis report, Soil fertility: Agro-ecology and not the Green Revolution for Africa, which summarises ACBís research on the Green Revolution push in Africa, based on fieldwork conducted in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe over the past three years. The research indicates that the promotion of synthetic fertiliser use in Africa is only a short-term fix for enhancing soil fertility on the continent. In the long run these interventions, spearheaded by organisations such as fertiliser multinational Yara and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), may even lead to lasting damage to the fragile soil life that is the key to sustainable soil health.
Synthetic fertiliser is posited as a necessary Ďradical and innovative interventioní to increase agricultural productivity in Africa. It is an integral part of the Green Revolution package alongside hybrid seed, irrigation and credit. The focus is on short term yields, particularly for maize. But the supply of synthetic fertiliser is premised on economies of scale and a predetermined, standardised product. These packages are developed on the back of broad criteria, such as the general need for nitrogen inputs to produce maize from year to year. The product is seldom based on a context-specific analysis of nutrient requirements in a given place and time. The orientation towards standardised inputs for the main commercial crops entrenches monocultures and reduces agricultural biodiversity. The obsession with increasing adoption and uptake of synthetic fertilisers on the continent seems to be more about opening up fertiliser markets for multinational corporations, and stimulating comme rcial output markets than about identifying and responding to the specific needs of farmers in their socio-ecological context.
Wholesale application of formulaic synthetic fertilisers can cause extensive ecological damage. Some countries, such as Malawi may have increased yields at a macro-level, but at a micro-level, soils are degrading and farmers are struggling to make ends meet. A major concern for farmers is the high cost of synthetic fertilisers, resulting in a relative elite benefiting while the majority of smallholder farmers are marginalised from the agricultural economy. ACBís synthesis indicates that increasingly, continental and regional frameworks are co-opted to support multinational profitability, and a squeezing out of support for alternative methods and techniques for sustainable soil fertility and health. At the base these will include mixed farming systems and polycultures incorporating animals into the production system rather than monocultures; an emphasis on techniques for water retention in the soil to improve long-term soil health; and drawing from and building on the deep wells of k nowledge of farmers in their local contexts.