How an African rock can boost food production

A certain kind of phosphate rock in Ethiopia, ground into a powder, turns into a powerful fertilizer that can boost fodder-crop yields up to six times. If you grow clover with the phosphate, then later plant oats in the same ground, the oat crop also jumps.

If you substitute maize (corn), sorghum, and millet for oats in the field where clover grew in the phosphate, yields can leap by two tons per acre per year.

Scientists at the International Livestock Center for Africa stumbled onto the local rocks only last year.

Now they think they have found an excellent way of growing more livestock fodder and grain crops for human beings in Ethiopia.

Using local rocks means saving foreign currency now spent on imported fertilizer. It also helps to ease congestion in ports which are clogged with relief grain.

Plans to exploit the rock are being worked out with the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines. A UN geologist is at work on this as well.

There are still problems to be solved, among them Ethiopian government lethargy and red tape.

Yet food production across the continent could be boosted if scientists can find fertilizers in other African countries that don't have to be imported. CHART: Meat and dairy imports: Cost of imports: dollars per capita per year from 1961 to 1979 Source: International Livestock Center for Africa CHART: Food Output: percent increase per acre from 1961 to 1980: Sub-Saharan Africa (The 39 countries south of the Sahara desert, not including South Africa or Namibia.) Latin America Asia Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

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