Fertilizer Production: Overcoming Persistent Dependency

Cameroon, like most African countries, is an agrarian economy which unfortunately has over the years been found wanting in maximising its huge potentials to produce what it consumes or consume what it produces. The country has vast arable land from north to south and east to west and boasts of a favourable climate comprising sufficient rainfall and sunshine largely favourable for good yields. To say the least, analysts hold that Cameroon is one of the rare countries in Africa where it suffices to throw any grain anywhere to have a bountiful harvest. 
Unfortunately, the country imports to eat; sometimes food items which she has potentials to cultivate en mass and even sell surpluses to needy markets within and without the sub-region. 
In the face of the demand/supply gap, public authorities resort to spending scarce resources on import of foodstuffs, notably rice, maize, fish, milk and wheat, to feed the rising population. 
Enhancing local production is ideal. However, production-inhibiting factors like insufficient capital, land, aging farms and farmers; as well as farm inputs; one of which is fertilizer, rage on.  It is common knowledge that fertilizers help the soil increase its fertility thereby promoting growth. With the help of fertilizers, plants become resilient against pests and weeds. Agronomic engineers hold that fertilizer use enables global crop yields to be almost twice what would be possible without them. Thus, producing the same amount of food without fertilizers would need more land to be farmed. This is challenging more so in a country like Cameroon where land is family-owned and having wide fields remains difficult.
As important as fertilizer is to enhancing agriculture, Cameroon remains at a disadvantaged end, relying largely on imports to meet national demand. If the reliance in the yesteryears posed little problems to availability and affordability, the situation is rather different today with global challenges like the raging Russian/Ukraine war involving one of the key supply countries. Russia is said to supply about 43 per cent of Cameroon’s annual fertilizer imports. Supply disruptions from Russia owing to the war has greatly limited the institutional import of fertilizers. Reports from across the country speak of low yields in the last farming season due to the affordability of the vital farm input. A 50 km bag of fertilizer which was given out at less than FCFA 20,000 before the war sold at about FCFA 50,000 during the last rainy season. As a result, fertilizer use levels remained low, especially in poor households and the negative impact on production and yields are significant. Statistics show that in the first quarter of 2022, the growth rate of food crops in Cameroon fell by 0.4%, moving from 2.5% at the end of March 2021 to 2.1% over the same period in 2022. This performance, according to the National Institute of Statistics, remains dependent on the availability of fertilizers whose prices are rising sharply on the market due to the war in Ukraine. Sadly, there is also the very high cost of maritime freight due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the increase in the cost of gas, which alone accounts for 80% of the cost of nitrogen fertilizer production. 
This scenario calls for urgent action, else the paltry agricultural production that the country had with which she kept boasting of being the breadbasket of the central African sub-region, would continue to fall. A puzzling situation looking at the prices of other products and the continuous growth of the population which needs constant quality and quantity food. 
According to Yara, the world’s leading crop Nutrition Company and a provider of environmental and agricultural solutions, the world's population is growing, and will be 9 billion people by 2050. By then, the world will need to make 60% more food in the same land area. Cameroon whose population is reportedly over 28 million in 2023, going by United Nations projections, needs to boost its farming yields. With an estimated 2.63 per cent annual increase (2021-2022 rates), the coming years could witness a surge in population growth. These people will need to be fed. The current global trends are not favourable for incessant imports. The county needs to produce locally, in quality and quantity, to stand the test of time. This entails a combination of interwoven factors; ranging from the availability of vast and arable farms, vibrant farmers, high-yielding and pest-resistant seeds, farm-to-markets roads, good storage facilities and mechanisms and obviously adequate and adaptable farm inputs.  
The country urgently needs to draft workable solutions to the fertilizer problem. Farmers cannot do without it and the politics of substantial local agricultural production would be dreamy if nothing is done to ensure that farmers easily access the vital production-enhanc...



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