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African leaders seek innovative methods to boost agriculture

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African authorities are seeking innovative methods to enhance funding for the agriculture industry in the continent and to improve the price and accessibility of fertilizers. This urgency arises from the recognition of the deteriorating condition of arable land in Africa.

Recent studies indicate that over 65% of agricultural land in Africa is currently experiencing degradation as a result of insufficient fertilizer utilization, soil erosion, and acidification. This alarming situation has raised concerns among leaders, as it poses a significant existential danger to the foundation of the continent’s economies, namely agriculture.

The Heads of State and government, along with the leaders participating in the Africa Fertiliser and Soil Health Summit in Nairobi this week, believe that increased funding and intra-Africa trade in fertilisers will be essential for sustaining agriculture across the continent.

The extent of land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa is a topic of ongoing debate. Conflicting perspectives exist regarding its regional and local scales, methodologies and reliability of indicators, and the effects of past and current degradation on food security, rural livelihoods, and the future of Africa.

“Fertiliser access and affordability must be improved. Financing tools such as trade credit guarantees, working capital, and targeted subsidies must be consolidated to reduce market distortions, reduce costs and strengthen input supply chains,” said the leaders in the Nairobi Declaration published on May 9.

“The need for regional cooperation on the issue of fertiliser and soil health is greater than ever before as opportunities for investment and great inter- and intra-regional trade are now significantly enhanced by AU member states’ adoption of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”

“The majority of Member States are still over-dependent on imported fertilisers, especially non-phosphate-based fertilizers which expose Africa to external market shocks and price volatility,” they explained.

Based on data from the African Union, fertilizer utilization in Africa is significantly lower compared to other regions globally. The global average for fertiliser use is 135kg per hectare, however, in Africa, it is just 18kg. This is far lower than the aim of 50kg/ha set in 2006 at a conference in Abuja.

What’s more, “the recent global fertiliser crisis has disproportionately affected Africa, with a year-on-year decline of 25 percent in fertiliser consumption in 2022,” said the declaration.

“Recent global economic crises, compounded by supply chain disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical dynamics, have worsened fertiliser affordability and availability, and disrupted agriculture, resulting in reduced acreage and lower yields,” Kenyan President William Ruto said in his address at the summit.

“We call upon the private sector to increase investments in Africa’s fertiliser industry and promote sustainable soil management practices.”

Private sector entities operating in agricultural production and fertiliser manufacturing assert that reducing the price of fertilisers to ensure accessibility for small-scale farmers is vital, although it is a challenge that they are unable to do single-handedly.

“Governments should relook tax policy for fertilisers and could remove some items to lower overall costs,” said William Ngeno, country representative in Kenya and Uganda for fertiliser manufacturer Yara International.

“Partnership in the building last mile access to fertiliser with private sector is crucial. Farmers need to access the fertiliser as close to them as possible.”

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Nigeria: Court insists Binance executive can face trial on behalf of firm

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In an ongoing tax evasion case, a Nigerian court decided on Friday that Binance executive, Tigran Gambaryan, may go to trial on the cryptocurrency exchange’s behalf.

Binance and executives Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and head of financial crimes compliance, and British-Kenyan national Nadeem Anjarwalla, a regional manager for Africa, face four counts of tax evasion. They are also accused of participating in specialized financial transactions without a license and laundering more than $35 million in another case.

All of them have entered not-guilty pleas on the allegations of money laundering. Following the court hearing on Friday, Binance’s attorney chose not to comment. The attorney for Gambaryan was similarly silent.

“We are deeply disappointed that Tigran Gambaryan, who has no decision-making power in the company, continues to be detained,” a Binance spokesperson said in a statement on Friday after the court hearing.

“These charges against him are completely meritless. He should be freed while discussions continue between Binance and Nigerian government officials.”

Gambaryan is still being held while Anjarwalla left the nation in March. The office of Nigeria’s security adviser has declared that it is collaborating with Interpol to pursue Anjarwalla’s detention.

After its executives were imprisoned as part of a crackdown on cryptocurrencies in February after being invited to the African nation for talks with officials, the CEO of Binance has warned Nigeria of establishing a dangerous precedent.

Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has announced that Gambaryan may face prosecution on behalf of the exchange; Binance has not been accused in the tax evasion case.

According to prior statements from Gambaryan’s attorney, Gambaryan was “neither a director, partner, nor company secretary” and did not have any formal authorization from Binance to take on the accusations on the firm’s behalf.

Judge Emeka Nwite decided on Friday that Gambaryan, who is Binance’s chief financial compliance officer and was lawfully designated to represent the company in a meeting in Nigeria, should be served with the charges against Binance.

On Wednesday, Gambaryan is scheduled to appear in court and enter a plea on Binance’s behalf. On Friday, Gambaryan’s request for bail in the money laundering case was turned down. As the nation struggled with ongoing dollar shortages, cryptocurrency websites became the go-to venues for trading the Nigerian naira. Nigeria has blamed Binance for its currency problems.

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Nigerian govt denies reports it plans to borrow pension fund for infrastructure

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The Nigerian government has denied reports that it plans to borrow the N20tn pension fund to finance infrastructural projects.

In a statement made in Abuja, Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, stated that the government would abide by the laws and guidelines in place pertaining to the pension fund.

Following a two-day Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday, the minister reportedly informed reporters that the government would present a plan to use local funds, including the fund, to finance infrastructure development.

Edunstated that the government does not intend to exceed these legal boundaries, emphasising that the government was committed to protecting workers’ pensions.

“It has come to my notice that stories are making the round that the Federal Government plans to illegally access the hard-earned savings and pension contributions of workers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“The pension industry, like most the financial industries, is highly regulated. There are rules. There are limitations about what pension money can be invested in and what it cannot be invested in.

“The Federal Government has no intention whatsoever to go beyond those limitations and go outside those bounds which are there to safeguard the pensions of workers.

“What was announced to the Federal Executive Council was that there was an ongoing initiative drawing in all the major stakeholders in the long-term saving industry, those that handle funds that are available over a long period to see how, within the regulations and the laws; these funds could be used maximally to drive investment in key growth areas,” Edun clarified.

The plan to spend the pension fund was reported and was widely criticised. The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria and the Nigeria Labour Congress had earlier on Thursday urged the government to abstain from making any changes to the pension fund.

They stated, “Nigerian workers have entrusted their hard-earned savings for retirement security, not as a means for government projects. It is imperative to halt any further plans to tap into these funds, especially given the lack of transparency and accountability in past government borrowing practices.”

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