Soil fertility key to realising Green Revolution, says expert
The Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, has warned that the quest for a “Green Revolution” in Africa may not be realised if adequate attention is not paid to managing soil fertility on the continent.
He was addressing participants at the Global Cassava Partnership in Kampala on Wednesday.
“Green Revolution” is a term used to describe phenomenal growth in agriculture. Solid soil fertility management is key… For cassava commercialisation and our Green Revolution, we need to use fertilisers― organic and inorganic― alongside the high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties,” Dr. Sanginga said.
Dr Sanginga said Africa cannot achieve a Green Revolution without first having a ‘Brown Revolution’—though the enhancement of soil conditions through the application of organic and inorganic fertilisers.
Across Africa, it was noted, current application of soil nutrients, whether organic or inorganic fertilisers, is estimated at 8 kilogramme per hectare.
Researchers say the amount, which is low, is cited as one of the major setbacks to the continent’s vision of adequately feeding itself.
The African Union has called on member countries to increase the application of soil nutrients to 50 kg/ha of nutrients combining both organic and inorganic fertilisers.
While acknowledging that much investment had gone into developing high-yielding cassava varieties resistant to some of the major pests and diseases, Dr. Nteranya said the gains achieved in breeding work cannot be realised if such varieties are grown on poor soils.
He described as unfortunate the tagging of cassava as a poor man’s crop that does not require much input such as fertilisers.
Nutrient use in cassava, he said, has been very minimal as it is considered a poor man’s crop. However, if we are talking about cassava transformation, about increasing cassava production not only for food but also for commercial use, we must change these wrong perceptions. If we think of growing cassava in soils that are too poor for other crops such as maize, then, we are missing the other half of the equation.”
According to him, soil fertility is one of the missing links in the struggle to commercialise cassava.
“For now, entrepreneurs involved in cassava processing say there isn’t enough cassava, whereas farmers, on the other hand, say there are no markets.”
Dr Sanginga said the African population has been rising rapidly requiring increased production to feed additional mouths. However, the continent’s increasing population has also been leading to a shortage of land hence the need to intensify production.
Cassava production supports more than 25 percent of farming households in sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to over 100 million people. Overall, over 60 percent of the world’s cassava is grown on the continent yet the yields are very low, averaging 10 tonnes/ha compared to over 40 tonnes/ha in Asia and Latin America, where the crop is grown for commercial use.
The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) conference started on 18 June and is slated to end today in Kampala, Uganda.
GCP21 consists of 45 member institutions working on research and development of cassava, a staple crop relied on by more than 700 million people worldwide.
The ultimate goal of the partnership is to improve cassava productivity through scientific research and development.
The conference participants include representatives from international agricultural research centres, advanced laboratories and universities from developed and developing countries, United Nations’ agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations, donor and development organisations, as well as businesses in the biotechnology and food processing industries.