Okyeame Ampadu, an 80-year-old farmer in the Volta Region of Ghana, keeps one last bag of fertilizer in a dark shed. He hasn't gotten a new supply from the government for two years. (Rupa Shenoy/The World)
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This story also appeared in Grist and The World

For decades, fertilizer was too expensive for African farmers. It had to be imported, and transportation into the continent was expensive. 

Now, though, Africa is turning a corner toward producing more of it locally. A Moroccan company has signed a nearly $4 billion deal to build a fertilizer plant in Ethiopia. A Danish company is helping the Democratic Republic of Congo build a $2.5 billion fertilizer plant. The African Development Bank Group helped fund a new fertilizer plant in Nigeria that’s already boosting farmers’ yields. 

And this August in Ghana, the vice president stood proudly before the largest fertilizer plant ever built in the country. Mahamudu Bawumia said the factory was the solution Ghana’s farmers had been demanding. 

“This factory can meet all of Ghana’s demand for fertilizer,” he told a crowd that clapped enthusiastically. 

African countries have some of the lowest rates of fertilizer use in the world, but efforts to change this come with some serious dilemmas. Some nutrients farmers add to the soil both nourish crops and contribute to the climate change that’s already damaging food production in Africa. Fertilizer runoff contaminates water, too. In the United States, where fertilizer use is high, managing these downsides has proved difficult.