Inorganic fertilizer use by smallholder farmers is one way to boost soil fertility and associated crop-yields and farm incomes. Yet fertilizer use remains the lowest where yield increase is needed the most. Per the World Development Indicator database , inorganic fertilizer use averages 154 kgs/hectare in middle-income countries, while in low-income countries it is less than one-tenth this level at 13 kgs/hectare. What is driving this situation? And are at times fiscally expensive programs, such as government subsidies, commonly used in low income countries, the right solution?
West African countries have been working for many years to develop and implement harmonized trade rules for crop inputs. While much remains to be done, new regional regulations for seed and fertilizer are already helping to guide quality improvements in some countries. The West Africa Seed Committee is due to be launched next week in Abidjan thereby clearing the way for establishment of a regional variety catalog and seed certification system. Work to operationalize the regional rules for fertilizer also continues.
Despite these positive developments, most West African countries are a long way from having the required capacities and institutional structures needed to implement their own trade rules. The agreed regulations are modeled on advanced international standards, yet most national regulatory systems for crop inputs are greatly overstretched if they exist at all. As a result, it will likely be many more years before true harmonized regional trade can begin.
A new World Bank Group Africa Trade Working Paper looks at these challenges and shows that simple solutions including unilateral and joint action by small groups of countries should not be ruled out as a way to fast-track progress and support long-term harmonization.