African heads of state and government have concluded the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit where they endorsed the Nairobi Declaration on Fertilizer and Soil Health, underscoring the crucial commitments to revive the nutritional balance of the continent’s exhausted soils.

The Nairobi Declaration encapsulated the key discussions among African leaders, with a focus on fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships and investments to drive policies, finance, research and development, markets, and capacity building for fertilizer and sustainable soil health management across Africa.

Additionally, the AFSH Summit endorsed a 10-year Action Plan for Fertilizer and Soil Health, the Africa Financing Mechanism (AFFM) for the Action Plan, and the Soil Initiative for Africa framework, all of which represent ambitious long-term efforts to systematically enhance the health and productivity of Africa’s soils.

The Summit from the 7th– 9th May 2024 was convened under the theme, Listen to the Land. Participants explored the current condition of Africa’s soils in a bid to implement urgent and appropriate restorative measures.

The event gathered over 4,000 participants, including 57 ministers of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, other government leaders, scientists, private sector representatives, heads of development organizations, civil society leaders, and leaders of farmer organizations, who engaged in discussions, partnerships and commitments aimed at rapidly restoring the nutritional value of the continent’s agricultural soils.

Throughout the three-day summit, it was emphasized that years of excessive use without adequate replenishment had resulted in severe depletion of the continent’s soils, hampering their capacity to sustain optimal crop yields.

President William Ruto, President of Kenya, welcomed the summit’s timeliness, coinciding with the launch of his government’s new framework for sustainable soil management, which will guide investments and efforts to improve the health and resilience of the country’s soil.

“Sixty percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa, we possess the largest potential for food production and become a global food basket. Prioritizing investments in nitrogen fertilizer production facilities is essential. Secondly, developing mechanisms for real time tracking of fertilizer market trends to ensure timely availability is crucial.

“Additionally, we need sustainable strategies to make fertilizers more affordable and accessible. Enhancing last-mile logistics for fertilizer distribution is equally critical. Moreover, building farmers’ capacities for effective fertilizer use and soil health improvement is imperative.” he said.

Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, reiterated the imperative of accelerated action on the commitments of the Nairobi Declaration to make up for lost time and advance towards the goals of earlier declarations, including the Abuja, Malabo, and Maputo Declarations, as well as the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP).

“Some African countries produce fertilizers but we depend mostly on fertilizers, making them very expensive for our farmers. Yet the African Center for Fertilizer Development based in Zimbabwe has been in existence since the 1980’s.

We must optimise use of such existing Continental assets to boost local fertilizer production and deliver quality fertilizers to African farmers at affordable prices. This is imperative if we are to improve the Continent’s agricultural sector, key for our food sovereignty and security. These investments should also be reflected in our national budgets.,” he said.

Due to decades of continuous soil nutrient mining and the age of the soils, Africa’s soils, which are among the oldest, globally, have become the poorest in the world. It is estimated that the continent loses over US$4 billion worth of soil nutrients each year, severely risking Africa’s ability to feed itself. Yet, a broad base of African farmers neither have access to fertilizers nor can they afford inputs needed to add life to their soils to reverse the downward spiral of the degradation of the physical environment.

“The discourse has been changed from crop productivity and profitability focus to a broader set of goals and targets such as sustainability and climate change adaptation and mitigation, rehabilitation and regeneration of the land and soil and restoration of environmental services and mix of solutions rather than one jacket fits all kinds of approaches.

“The major challenge facing food systems in Africa is how to exponentially increase productivity, sustainability, and rapidly increasing demographic pressure and changing climate conditions while maintaining or enhancing the health of the soil resource base. Safeguarding the health of African soil is key. It’s not just about enhancing food security but also in securing environmental sustainability,” said the Former Ethiopian Prime Minister and board chair of AGRA, Hailemariam Dessalegn.