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Africans to Help Small Farms

African leaders meeting in Nigeria have endorsed a new initiative to help small-scale farmers improve their yield and help end hunger and poverty on the continent. The leaders have also committed themselves to reducing taxes and tariffs on fertilizer.

More than 60 percent of the labor force in Africa depends on subsistence agriculture and needs subsidies in the form of fertilizer, improved seed, and agriculture extension services to increase food production and break out of the poverty trap.

Nigeria's agriculture minister, Adamu Bello, says the new initiative agreed in Abuja aims to help small-scale farmers in Africa.

"When you talk of African agriculture, you are talking of really, the small-scale farmer. So the issue is that we are trying to see how it is possible for the small-scale farmer to get fertilizer," said Bello. "We have already seen how the meeting is shaping up ... suggestions of small packaging so that farmers can afford it, advocating of higher subsidies for fertilizer, ensuring that there is fund devoted to procurement so that procurement is done in bulk so that the cost is reduced and distributed."

African officials and international agriculture experts at the five-day session were unanimous in saying increased use of fertilizer could propel Africa's green revolution.

Most of Africa's farmers are poor and cannot afford chemical nutrients. Lack of fertilizer is blamed for the continent's rapid soil degradation.

Experts say Africa is losing as much as $4 billion per year through soil depletion, which has cut food production in the past 40 years.

By reducing taxes and tariffs, African leaders hope to reduce the cost of fertilizer. The leaders also pledged to harmonize their policies on fertilizer, improve infrastructure, storage, and market access.

Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University in New York, says Africa can benefit from the Asian experience.

"When this was true in Asia, the rich countries helped Asian farmers to use fertilizer," he said. "The U.S. government gave India big subsidies and fertilizer so that India could have a green revolution. Now is the time for the rich countries to do the same for Africa. To help give fertilizer or the financing for the fertilizer so that African governments can make sure that African farmers have the inputs that they need."

Groups such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the Abuja forum, an initiative of the African Union.