The production of organic fertilizers is still embryonic in Africa. And yet: the Beninese Gildas Zodome founded Bio Phyto Collines on this principle and is experiencing strong continental development.
The share of organic in the fertilizer market? “It hardly represents anything,” says an independent input expert. It is estimated that the organic fertilizer market (manure, leaves and compost) represents only 2 billion euros worldwide against 150 billion euros for conventional, or barely more than 1% of the agricultural input market.
In Africa, this is even truer than elsewhere. If the continent, all countries combined, does not account for more than 5% of world fertilizer consumption, it is rather the contributions of mineral fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphate, potash) that are popular. Volumes used in Africa jumped 130% between 2008 and 2015, according to the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC).
Industrialists attracted by the African potential of fertilizers
This growth rate attracts industrialists from all over the world: the construction group Orascom in Egypt, the American Monsanto in Burkina Faso cotton, the Chinese CGC Overseas Construction in Cameroon, the Pakistani Engro who was planning to inject a trifle of a billion dollars in fertilizers in the Maghreb, the Office chérifien des phosphates in Morocco which will produce 2.5 million tonnes of fertilizer per year for Ethiopian farmers….
The stakes are high: it is a question of driving the train of the African green revolution in a region still struck by the highest concentration of undernutrition in the world, and agricultural productivity still far from meeting it (until 1.8% of the agricultural productivity level of developed countries).
But behind this effervescence, critics of “all chemicals” in agriculture, very strong in developed countries, are also beginning to give voice in Africa. Supporting arguments: the high cost of these inputs, their difficult transport to remote rural areas, their poor fertilizing quality, still pinpointed by the IFDC in a March 2013 report, the impact on the health of farmers who often spreading without protective equipment, their responsibility in the presence of endocrine disruptors …
The alternative of organic fertilizers
It is on the basis of this same observation that a 33-year-old doctoral student at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Cotonou (UAC) decided to set up his own activity of production of pesticides and organic fertilizers after observing the recurrence of pathologies among farmers using synthetic inputs.
“Diarrhea, fainting, intoxication. The phenomenon is well known ”, details Gildas Zodome, former local representative in Glazoué (center-south) of several public institutions assisting the agricultural sector, including the Regional Center for the Promotion of Agriculture in Benin (Cerpa) and the National Institute. agricultural research in Benin (Inrab).
It took him two years to come up with the first prototypes, designed from a mixture of aromatic plants (eucalyptus, neem seeds – also called neem – orange tree, hyptis …), and inspired by methods of pest control and fertilization used by his ancestors. A dozen essences distributed differently according to the recipes he jealously keeps the secret, especially since he patented them.
Cheaper for more performance
Tested on several farms, with farmers and with Inrab researchers, only the best performing pesticides and fertilizers are now distributed. Three references that the entrepreneur-agronomist promotes beyond his borders, as in Burkina, where the company has benefited from the assistance of the business incubator La Fabrique, in Niger, Madagascar and soon in Togo.
His products represent a good deal for operators, he assures us. Starting with the price: 10,000 CFA francs per 50 kilo bag (around 15 euros). “Chemical fertilizers are more like 17,000 CFA francs a bag in Benin, or even 12,000 if they are subsidized,” he explains. For pesticides, prices are set on competition, at 5,000 francs per liter.
And returns follow, according to Gildas Zodome. “On a hectare of rice cultivation, we measured an average production of 4 tonnes of rice with our products, against 3 tonnes with chemical inputs, and an additional economic margin of CFAF 50,000”, he assures us.
Bio Phyto Collines now has nine permanent employees in Allada, the founder’s birthplace, where it has one hectare of aromatic plant cultivation, the rest being acquired outside from suppliers. With 400 tons of fertilizer produced each year and 15,000 liters of bio-pesticides, the company achieves a turnover of 100 million CFA francs (150,000 euros).
Objective: to multiply by five its production
Others are positioned in the same niche, such as Green Elephants in Morocco and Mali or Safi Organics in Kenya, but the possibilities for growth are considerable.
Bio Phyto Collines hopes to increase its production fivefold within three years.