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Scoping Study on Organic and Biofertilizers: Overcoming Chemical Fertilizer Dependence in Africa

Tilled soil ready for the planting in Zankan during the cold harmattan dry season, near Manchok, Kaduna State, Nigeria. Photo: Kambai Akau.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian war against Ukraine caused a fertilizer crisis that is threatening food security, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a problem, as most African soils have a fertility and thus productivity issue. Relying solely on the production and use of inorganic fertilizers to address the fertilizer and food security crises is insufficient. Fertilizers can boost crop yields and nutrient cycles in the soil, but only when applied correctly, in a timely manner and in combination with other good agronomic practices. The long-term impact of inorganic fertilizers on soil fertility can be negative in the absence of sound management of organic matter, especially in Africa, where a significant share of soils are weathered and degraded.


The Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA) of the European Commission wishes to avoid a ‘fertilizer tunnel vision’ and will continue to promote a comprehensive approach to soil fertility, in line with the Team Europe response to global food insecurity that was agreed to by EU Member States in June 2022 () committing to “more efficient and sustainable use of inorganic inputs (fertilizers)” as well as to “agroecological and other innovative approaches”.  


By opting for organic fertilizers and biofertilizers instead of (or in addition to) inorganic fertilizers, not only can farmers save money, but they also contribute to preserving soil health and the environment. Despite their benefits, there is a current lack of up-to-date information on the production, marketing, and use of these alternative fertilizers in sub-Saharan Africa. To bridge this knowledge gap, DeSIRA-LIFT has initiated a scoping study to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with off-farm production, marketing, and utilization of organic and biofertilizers. The scoping study will contribute fact-checked analysis and science-based knowledge to inform decision-makers on the way forward to promote organic and biological fertilizers in sub-Saharan Africa.


The findings will contribute to ongoing AU-EU dialogues, including the new AU-EU Taskforce on Fertilizers, as well as DG INTPA’s programming on agricultural productivity and soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa. The findings may also orient future EU investments and provide relevant information to EU delegations in African countries and the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I) of the African Union.


The publication is expected to be released in the lead up to the African Union Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit in 2023. The Summit, organized by the African Union Commission, aims to improve the African fertilizer market and address primary soil health issues on the continent. It will bring together high-level stakeholders to develop a ten-year action plan for sustainable productivity growth in African agriculture. The summit’s goal is to create a more dynamic African fertilizer market that addresses the primary soil health constraints on the continent.


DeSIRA-LIFT is an EU-funded project that supports the DeSIRA initiative in promoting sustainable agri-food systems in the Global South. It offers services in three areas: supporting country-based DeSIRA projects, African apex organizations for agricultural development research, and co-creating knowledge and evidence for policy dialogue and programming.


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