Before the hunger crisis struck Africa, soil degradation was not a problem. Traditionally farmers would clear land, grow crops there for a couple of harvests, and then let those lands lay fallow for 10-15 years in order to regain some of the lost nutrients while more land was cleared. This process works well, except for when the required food production is skyrocketing, as it is now. Presently, farmers do not have time and do not have land to wait 10 years for their fields to lay fallow. They need to grow crops now. Therefore, farmers grow crop and crop harvest after harvest on the same fields, sapping the fields of their nutrients and fertility.
This intensive, non stop farming has caused farmers to lose an average of 22 kilograms of nitrogen, 2.5 kilograms of phosphorous, and 15 kilograms of potassium per hectare of land annually over the past 30 years- this is the yearly equivalent of four billion USD worth of fertilizer. Due to this traumatic nutrient loss, farmers’ yields are paltry. According to one study “The depleted soil has caused average yields of grain crops to stagnate at around 1 tonne per hectare since the 1960s. By contrast, yields now reach 2.5 t ha−1 in south Asia and 4.5 t ha−1 in east Asia, where chemical fertilizers have been widely adopted.”
One may be wondering why the problem of soil degradation in Africa was not solved long ago, especially with a solution in plain sight. That solution is chemical fertilizers. However, obtaining fertilizer is no easy task for Africa’s farmers. Fertilizer, which costs two to six time more in Africa than the world average, is too expensive for Africa’s impoverished farmers to buy. Additionally, it is very difficult and costly to move African fertilizer from an African seaport even 60 miles inland- so difficult in fact, that it costs more to move fertilizer inland than it does to ship it from the United States to Africa.
The dire state of Africa’s farmland and the cost and accessibility of fertilizer need to be improved urgently. For this improvement to happen many changes would need to be made. One study says that “To bring a green revolution to Africa would require a functioning road network, credit for farmers, extension agents to teach new methods, better irrigation, as well as development of retailers to sell fertilizers and improved seed varieties in rural areas.” In short, the road to solving the soil problem in Africa is a long one, but it is possible.