SEATTLE — By 2025, the population within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region is anticipated to reach 430 million, a number just shy of double the region’s population of 230 million in 2010. Concurrent with this enormous growth in population is an anticipated growth in demand for agricultural products; more people means more mouths to feed. Such projected population growth calls attention to the need for greater scrutiny of agricultural practices such as fertilizer use in West Africa.
For nations like Benin, in which more than half of the economically active population is involved in the agricultural sector, this increase in agricultural demand should, on paper, seem to be easily sustained, as the majority of the population is already engaged in the agricultural arena anyway. Yet mass engagement in the agricultural sector does not necessarily equate to mass production. Instead, it has actually contributed to undermining the nation’s agricultural productivity by relieving the soil of its nutrients without allowing time for regeneration. This, in turn, causes crop yields to lessen as crops attempt to survive in soil that is essentially dead.
The issue of nutrient-deficient soil is not limited to Benin; some estimate that almost half of the farmland in West Africa is dependent on soil that experiences some level of erosion and nutrient mining. Fertilizer use in West Africa is far below the world average, and those fertilizers that are available tend to be expensive, imported chemical fertilizers that simply further contribute to soil depreciation. This problem helped initiate USAID’s West African Fertilizer Program (WAFP), which ran from 2012 to 2017 and contributed to the creation of the ECOWAS fertilizer regulatory framework, among other objectives.
With a stronger regulatory framework, farmers will be able to develop clearer fertilization strategies. One notable organization that arose from this increased scrutiny of fertilizer use in West Africa is Farmers Hope. Founded in Ghana in 2010, Farmers Hope creates cheaper, more efficient fertilizing options. The organization developed an organic fertilizer with seven locally-sourced raw ingredients and sold their product at 50 percent of the cost of comparable products. This innovative local product has helped provide yields that are 60 percent higher than those of traditional and expensive fertilizers and has directly impacted the lives of more than 4,000 farmers.
Despite the successes of international initiatives such as the ECOWAS regulatory framework and the region’s grassroots initiatives such as Farmers Hope, the issue of soil-nutrient erosion is still incredibly significant. Until agricultural practices worldwide adopt ways to allow nutrient regeneration and rest for the soil, soil depreciation will always be a threat to agricultural stability. In a world where the population is constantly growing, taking care of our Earth is not just a good idea, but a necessity.
– Kailee Nardi