West Africa Takes on Food Crisis and Soil Health to Restore Degraded Land

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West Africa
Vast African Land – (Photo Source – Pexels)

West Africa is facing a severe food crisis due to degraded land and soil fertility, which threatens the livelihoods of millions. However, a ray of hope has emerged as West African nations unite to tackle the issue and bring about the much-needed change. Countries in the region are making significant efforts to combat the food crisis by focusing on fertilizers and soil health. As per the recent African Development Bank (AfDB) report, “Approximately 65% of African soil lacks the nutrients necessary for productive agriculture, resulting in the degradation of 300 million hectares of land.” Therefore, to restore degraded land and ensure food security in the region, West African nations have come together to address soil health and fertilizer access.

The Current Food Crisis and its Impact on West Africa

West Africa
African man Farming – ( Photo Source – Pexels)

The challenges faced by farmers in the region are multifaceted and range from the depletion of nutrients in the soil to the high price of fertilizers. It affects the livelihoods of millions and impacts food security in the region. According to the United Nations, sub-Saharan Africa remains the epicenter of hunger globally, with over 260 million people suffering from food insecurity. As a result, food production in West Africa is not keeping pace with population growth. This has led to rising food prices, food insecurity, and malnutrition.

The Need for Soil Health and Fertilizer Access to Restore Degraded Land in West Africa:

West Africa
An agricultural specialist adding fertilizer to plants- (Photo source- Adobe Stock)

In addition to the food crisis, West Africa is also facing a soil health crisis. The region’s soils are becoming increasingly degraded due to over-intensive farming practices, such as monoculture, over-grazing, and deforestation. Soil degradation is a major threat to food security in West Africa. It reduces crop yields, makes crops more susceptible to pests and diseases, and increases the risk of drought and famine.

Approximately 65% of African soil lacks the nutrients necessary for productive agriculture, resulting in the degradation of 300 million hectares of land. Thus, to restore degraded land and ensure food security in the region, West African nations have come together to address soil health and fertilizer access.  

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The Major Soil and Fertilizer Deal in West Africa:

In June 2023, 15 West African countries signed a major soil and fertilizer deal aimed at boosting food security and ending hunger. The deal was brokered by the African Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM) under the AfDB. The deal aims to address the soil crisis and improve access to affordable fertilizers for farmers across the region. 

In order to address the food and soil health crises in West Africa, the region’s nations have come together to launch the Green Sahel Initiative. The Green Sahel Initiative is a $20 billion plan that aims to restore 10 million hectares of degraded land in the region by 2030.

The Green Sahel Initiative will focus on three main areas:

West Africa
African Woman Practicing Green House Farming – ( Photo Source – Adobe Stock)
  • Restoring degraded land: This will involve planting trees, shrubs, and grasses to improve soil fertility and water retention.
  • Increasing agricultural productivity: This will involve introducing new agricultural technologies and practices, such as improved irrigation systems and drought-resistant crops.
  • Promoting sustainable land management: This will involve educating farmers about the importance of good land management practices, such as crop rotation and cover cropping.

The Green Sahel Initiative is a bold and ambitious plan that has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in West Africa. The initiative is a major step forward in the fight against food insecurity and climate change, and it is a model for other regions that are facing similar challenges.

In addition to the Green Sahel Initiative, there are a number of other things that can be done to address the food and soil health crises in West Africa. These include:

  • Investing in agricultural research and development: This will help to develop new crop varieties that are more resistant to pests, diseases, and climate change.
  • Providing farmers with access to improved agricultural inputs: This includes things like fertilizer, improved seeds, and irrigation systems.
  • Investing in rural infrastructure: This includes things like roads, schools, and healthcare facilities.
  • Promoting good land management practices: This includes things like crop rotation, cover cropping, and conservation tillage.

Also Read: Leveraging Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Change In Africa

Exploring Strategies to Combat Soil Depletion in West Africa:

Various other efforts have been made to improve soil health and boost productivity. They range from nurturing soil health and sustaining organic farming and agroforestry to investing in fertilizers. 

Nurturing Soil Health:

Since most soils in West Africa are acidic, the use of the right kind of fertilizers, such as lime and phosphorous, is crucial to reversing soil acidity and improving productivity. Traditional techniques such as intercropping and mixed farming have also been adopted to improve soil health and agricultural productivity. 

Promoting Organic Farming

Several West African countries have been promoting organic farming practices to reduce the impact of increasing chemicals in the soil. Organic farming can help improve soil health and enhance biodiversity while reducing vulnerability to climate change. 

Investing in Fertilizers

Apart from the fertilizer deal, the West African Fertilizer Association (WAFA) has been promoting the production and distribution of locally-made fertilizers to support smallholder farmers in the region. The association has been working with governments, trade institutions, and development partners to promote effective policy frameworks and improve access to fertilizers for smallholder farmers in the region. 

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High-Level Roundtable Meeting

In May 2023, a high-level roundtable meeting was held by the World Bank and West African nations to discuss and promote soil health and fertilizer access. The meeting titled, “Fertilizing West Africa: Feeding the Soil to Feed the People” was aimed at finding innovative solutions to combat soil depletion and environmental degradation. The conversation led to a call for a comprehensive approach to soil health and restoration that involves policy interventions, capacity building, and investment in land management practices. 

African Indigenous Knowledge and Practices

West Africa
African Woman in her farm – ( Photo Source – Adobe Stock)

African indigenous knowledge and practices have come into play. Communities have been adopting traditional techniques such as intercropping and mixed farming to improve soil health and agricultural productivity. These farming methods promote soil fertility, enhance biodiversity, and reduce vulnerability to climate change. 

The Importance of Soil Health

Soil health is essential for food security, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development. Healthy soils are able to store water, provide nutrients to plants, and filter pollutants from water. They also play a role in regulating the Earth’s climate.

Soil degradation is a major threat to global food security. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s agricultural land is degraded, and this number is increasing. Soil degradation can be caused by a number of factors, including over-farming, deforestation, and climate change.

There are a number of things that can be done to improve soil health. These include:

  • Planting cover crops: Cover crops help to protect the soil from erosion and improve its water-holding capacity.
  • Rotating crops: Crop rotation helps to prevent the build-up of pests and diseases, and it also helps to improve the soil’s nutrient content.
  • Using compost: Compost is a rich source of nutrients that can help to improve the soil’s fertility.
  • No-till farming: No-till farming helps to reduce soil erosion and improve the soil’s organic matter content.

By taking these steps, we can help to improve soil health and ensure a sustainable food supply for the future.

The Future of Food Security in West Africa

West Africa
West African Cocoa Farm – ( Photo source – Adobe Stock)

The future of food security in West Africa is uncertain. The region is facing a number of challenges, including population growth, climate change, and soil degradation. However, there are also a number of opportunities, such as the Green Sahel Initiative.

If West African nations can work together to address the challenges they face, they can build a more sustainable and resilient food system. This will ensure that the region has a secure food supply for the future.

Conclusion

West Africa is taking on the food crisis and is leading the way in promoting soil health and fertilizer access. The initiatives taken by the West African nations are commendable and will ensure food security and promote environmental sustainability. However, it requires support from governments, development partners, and the private sector to bring about lasting change and promote inclusive agriculture. Continued investment in sustainable agriculture and dedicated resources towards research on soil health and restoration are required to address the food crisis in the region. 

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