‘Decline in soil fertility threat to food security’

Business News of Monday, 2 February 2015

Source: Graphic Online

Agotime Farmer

Soil fertility, particularly in the northern parts of the country, is steadily declining, thus raising concern for national food security. The situation, according to a Senior Research Fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Mr Shashidhara Kolavalli, is partly the result of some farming practices such as overcropping.

“Current agricultural practices ‘mine’ soil nutrients in the sense that nutrients extracted from soils through crops are not adequately replenished,” he stated.

The senior fellow was addressing selected journalists on soil fertility management and fertiliser subsidies to Ghanaian farmers.

Mr Kolavalli informed the journalists of the arrival of a team of 10 experts in the country to offer recommendations to the government on how to solve challenges associated with offering fertiliser subsidies to farmers.

He expressed the hope that the team’s exchanges with stakeholders and policy makers would enable the government to structure policies that would address the issues of soil fertility management and fertiliser supply.

Following significant increases in world food and fertiliser prices, Ghana and a number of other countries began to subsidise inorganic fertilisers in 2008.

The aim was to encourage fertiliser use and also offer uniform prices of the product across the country.

However, the cost of subsidies and the quantity of fertilisers attracting subsidies have increased tremendously over the years.

Available figures show that a total of GH¢862.39 million was spent on subsidies between 2008 and 2011 by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and COCOBOD.

Meanwhile, the MOFA fertiliser subsidy bill is projected to rise to GH¢136 million and account for over 35 per cent of its budget in 2020.

Although inorganic fertiliser was required to replace lost nutrients, Mr Kolavalli said differences in soil characteristics such as active soil organic carbon, micronutrients and acidity might depress crop response to inorganic fertiliser.

“The evidence is increasingly indicating that crop response to fertiliser can be significantly constrained by farmers’ inability to manage and augment their soils over time.”

Mr Kolavalli noted that, “Chemical fertiliser has a role but we cannot just focus on it as the panacea to solving soil fertility problems.”

Even though organic fertiliser was another option to employ in ensuring soil fertility, he said the problem of that option was its limited supply and that COCOBOD was only able to supply 220,000 bags of organic fertiliser in 2014.

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