OpEd by His Excellency Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and Ousmane Diagana
In the current context of global crisis, the future of our farming and food security are closely linked. Soil health and fertilizers, while at the heart of the problem, are also part of the solution.
With most basic food items hit by double-digit inflation, access to food for the most vulnerable populations has become problematic at a time when over 41 million people in West and Central Africa are already facing severe food and nutritional insecurity.
The current food insecurity is mainly attributable to the shock wave from the COVID-19 pandemic, the fallout from the war in Ukraine, and the agricultural sector’s weak performance—itself a direct consequence of the drastic rise in fertilizer prices. Lack of mechanization and climate change also play a role in what is a worsening situation.
The cycle of pauperization has a knock-on effect on problems with access to fertilizers, soil depletion, and plunging crop yields. Breaking this cycle is a key strategic issue, considering that in Togo, as well as in many other countries of the region, roughly two thirds of jobs are tied directly or indirectly to the agricultural sector. Greater agricultural output is therefore a sine qua non for the economic transformation of West Africa.
Solutions do exist: The first thing that will be needed is an overall improvement in access to quality fertilizers, which will require strengthening regional supply chains at various levels, including substantially increasing regional production of organic and mineral fertilizers to reduce reliance on outside sources. This will also require improved storage and transport infrastructure, as well as a more robust regulatory framework to facilitate fertilizer access and availability at affordable prices for small farmers.
These solutions will also involve introducing enhanced farming techniques, including promoting more efficient use of fertilizers through improved extension services and drawing on new findings from research. Technical and financial support mechanisms will also be needed to help farmers restore soil health and fertility.
This is the approach that more than 100 policy makers, industry stakeholders, technical and financial partners, and representatives of associations meeting in Lomé this week are hoping to adopt. The aim is to agree together on a road map for the countries of West Africa.
The road map will propose initiatives to leverage the region’s assets, including its major phosphate deposits and vast gas reserves needed to manufacture the fertilizers.
The road map will set out a regional approach enabling all stakeholders in the sector to get on board. Development and private sector partners, as well as many others, have already expressed their commitment to come alongside ECOWAS countries, Chad, and Mauritania to support them in their implementation of this joint road map.
Through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank has already scaled up efforts toward a regional emergency response approach. That is how the Food Security Resilience Program (FSRP), with an endowment of $766 million, is aimed at increasing agricultural output by adopting climate-smart technologies, promoting intraregional value chains, and building capacity for agricultural risk management. To date, over 7.6 million farmers have received agricultural goods and services and over 200,000 metric tons of fertilizers have been distributed to vulnerable farmers in West and Central Africa. This month, a shipment of 34,000 metric tons of fertilizer has been distributed from the port of Lomé to meet the urgent needs of Togolese producers.
This partnership approach inspires hope and confirms that we can—and must—remain united if we are to achieve this important goal. The region’s subsistence, prosperity, and food security are at stake.
First published in French in Jeune Afrique, via World Bank