Dilemma of nitrogen management for future food security in sub-Saharan Africa – a review

Food security entails having sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet dietary needs. The need to optimise nitrogen (N) use for nutrition security while minimising environmental risks in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is overdue. Challenges related to managing N use in SSA can be associated with both insufficient use and excessive loss, and thus the continent must address the ‘too little’ and ‘too much’ paradox. Too little N is used in food production (80% of countries have N deficiencies), which has led to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Conversely, too much N load in water bodies due mainly to soil erosion, leaching, limited N recovery from wastewater, and atmospheric deposition contributes to eutrophication (152 Gg N year–1 in Lake Victoria, East Africa). Limited research has been conducted to improve N use for food production and adoption remains low, mainly because farming is generally practiced by resource-poor smallholder farmers. In addition, little has been done to effectively address the ‘too much’ issues, as a consequence of limited research capacity. This research gap must be addressed, and supportive policies operationalised, to maximise N benefits, while also minimising pollution. Innovation platforms involving key stakeholders are required to address N use efficiency along the food supply chain in SSA, as well as other world regions with similar challenges.