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Dr. Cary Fowler: I think my starting point would be to mention, what I think is the starting point of everyone in the room, which is that our goal is to promote agricultural systems that provide good nutrition for everyone all year round. So, what is good nutrition really mean?

I think it means obviously growing a broad range of crops, not just the top two or three cereal crops. It means growing those crops that are adapted and productive. And that in its essence is what we talk about, what it really means to have a resilient food system. A system that’s based on a broad range of crops, but it also requires that we have fertile and healthy soils.

We’re not going to have food security in the world today or ever without having both fertile, healthy soils and adapted and productive crops. We know that our soils are being degraded at a rate of something like 10 to even 100 times faster than they’re being replenished. This is not the foundation upon which food security can be based.

So where do we go in a world where we have a great deal of hunger and malnutrition in a continent such as Africa? And yet only 3% to 4% of the world’s fertilizer use there.

There’s no quick or easy solution to that. But, I think that where we start is by trying to create better soils that can be more effective and efficient in utilizing fertilizers.

We’ve been partnering, we the United States, the U.S. Agency for International Development, with FAO and others, and certainly have been in wonderful talks with the International Fertilizer Association about promoting more information-gathering, soil mapping, soil informatics and analysis that would enable countries such as those in Africa to have the wherewithal to engage in better national planning, to know where crops can be planted in the long term sustainably, and to give farmers the kinds of information tools that they need in order to engage in better farm management.

Unless we have those elements together, we’re not going to be in a position to have better fertilizer efficiency in those countries. And if we don’t have that, we’re not going to see greater fertilizer use and greater production. So, I think it’s necessary for us, important for us, to realize the links between soil health and fertility, fertilizer use, a broad range of crops with the goal of providing good nutrition, and that’s where, that’s the framework in which I see the discussion we’re having today, David.

* * * * * *

Thank you, David. I’ll be very brief. In her opening remarks, my friend Alzbeta Klein mentioned that we’ve transitioned from a supply issue last year to an affordability issue this year. I just elaborate on that to say that affordability is not just a matter of price, it’s a matter of fertilizer use efficiency as well. If the efficiency rate is very low, then obviously farmers can’t afford to pay the prices because they don’t get enough benefit from the fertilizers. And what does fertilizer efficiency depend on? It depends on soil health and fertility.

So, I think my final message would be that a prerequisite for increasing fertilizer use in Africa and other places is to build soil health and fertility there. So, we’re not talking about a question of either or. Yes, we could have an agricultural system that’s doesn’t depend at all on fertilizers. We could also have an agricultural system that depends too much on fertilizers. Neither one are the agricultural systems that we want to have.

We want to have a balance of those two, where we build soil health and fertility supplemented by efficient proper use of fertilizers to get the results that we need, which is a sustainable system of agriculture, productive, and that supplies good nutrition for people all year round.

U.S. Department of State

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