The theme of the 57th Fertasa Congress in Durban recently was sustainability, with speakers focussing on sutainability of the fertiliser industry, water, soil, climate and agriculture.

Referring to the current state of affairs in the fertiliser industry, Adriaan de Lange, Fertasa Chairman,  pointed out in his Chairmans Report that over the last decade or so high fertiliser prices lead to the erection of many more fertiliser plants, which, as they started production, started to put pressure on prices. So although there is a steady and constant growth in demand for fertilisers internationally, the supply remains larger than the demand, which is continuing to put pressure on prices.

Focusing on the sustainability of the fertilizer industry in Africa, Paul Makepeace from AFAP (African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership), based in Kenya, pointed out that the need for distribution and supply of plant available nutrients from areas of high concentration to areas of need for food production and consumption will continue as populations grow, urbanization continues, incomes grow and the understanding of science grows. “So fertilisers as we know them,” he said, “are likely to be around for a long time to come.”

Looking at sustainability issues of water, Dr Sylvester Mpandeli of the Water Research Commission concluded that the main demand on water resources in South Africa will be from an increasing population and demand for food, coupled with the multiplier effect of climate change on increased scarcity of water. There will therefore be a pressing need to balance priorities. Agriculture remains crucial in terms of its ability to provide food and income to the rural poor, he said.

Focusing on soil sustainability, Prof Isaiah Wakindiki of the University of Venda painted a bleak picture of what awaits humankind if the soil runs out, and it is fast in the process of running out! “We have about 60 years of topsoil left! Soil loss is up to 40 times the rate of formation,” he warned.

Prof Roland Schulze of the Centre for Water Resources Research at the University of KZN suggested that we should recognize that climate change and the associated issues are real and that coping strategies would have to be implemented urgently.

In the last session Prof Herman van Schalkwyk, a director with Suidwes Landbou, looked at the sustainability of agriculture. To reach long term sustainability, he pointed out, countries have to be competitive.

Fertasa awarded several members in various categories. Jane McPherson, Manager of the Grain SA Farmer Development programme, was given the Training and Mentor Award in Small Scale Farming for  2017, while Schalk Grobbelaar was nominated for the Silver Medal Extension Award 2017. The Gold Medal was awarded post humously to Prof Willem Fölscher, previously of the University of Pretoria. His two grandsons, Willem Fölscher and Henk van Wyk received it on his behalf. Outgoing Fertasa CEO, Adam Mostert, was awarded Honorary Membership. – Izak Hofmeyr, Farmbiz