From: Estelle Shirbon, Reuters
Published June 14, 2006 12:00 AM

African Leaders Pledge Farming Green Revolution

ABUJA — African leaders recommended on Tuesday scrapping taxes on fertilisers as one of 12 key measures to foster a "Green Revolution" in farming and reduce hunger in the poorest continent.


One third of sub-Saharan Africans face recurrent famine and under-nutrition and experts say this is due partly to a worsening problem of soil depletion, which occurs when farmland loses more nutrients than are being replaced.


"Population pressure now compels farmers to grow crop after crop thereby mining the soil of nutrients," Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told heads of state and farming ministers from across Africa at a summit to address the crisis.


"Although more than 70 percent of Africa's active population is directly engaged in farming, our farmers have not enough to show for their toil," he said.


The modernisation of farming techniques and increased fertiliser use spurred Green Revolutions in Asia and Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s that increased crop yields dramatically and eradicated hunger in most regions.


But in Africa, where many farmers cannot afford fertiliser, yields per person have fallen over the last 40 years and experts warn that if soil depletion continues unabated, they will decline by up to 30 percent over the next 15 years.


To avoid this, the heads of state pledged to reduce the cost of fertiliser by harmonising taxes and tariffs across the continent by mid-2007.


"As an immediate measure, we recommend the elimination of taxes and tariffs on fertiliser and on fertiliser raw materials," they said in a 12-point declaration.


THREAT TO ENVIRONMENT


They said their aim was to increase the average use of fertiliser per hectare in Africa to 50 kg (110 lb) by 2015 from 8 kg now, less than one tenth of the world average.


Other measures include setting up by 2007 an Africa Fertiliser Development Financing Mechanism. This would be financed by African Union member states, with backing from the African Development Bank and the United Nations.


The financing mechanism would help farmers obtain fertiliser but would also aim to foster local production. Africa has 60 percent of world reserves of phosphate, a key ingredient, but produces hardly any fertiliser.


As things stand, Africans pay up to six times the average world price for their fertilisers because of transport costs.


Fertiliser use is negligible and most of it is for cash crops. Subsistence farmers are not replacing the nutrients they harvest along with each successive crop.


This means the land eventually becomes barren, forcing farmers to clear new lands for cultivation.


Studies show that 70 percent of deforestation in Africa is done by farmers clearing new fields, while soil depletion also accelerates desertification, which affects half of Africa.


Fragile ecosystems such as the Serengeti plains in east Africa and the Kalahari savannahs in the south of the continent are being converted into farmland, threatening their wildlife.


Source: Reuters


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