The World Food Prize has been won by a man who may have many in the fertilizer industry rethinking their fertilizer sales strategies. This is because the 2017 award was recently presented to Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank.
The reason that the prize giving may cause many to rethink their approach to fertilizer sales is best answered by Adesina himself. When collecting his award, he said, “You know, you can find Coca-Cola or Pepsi anywhere in rural Africa, so why can’t you find fertilizers?” He continues to explain that, “It is because the model that was used to distribute those farm inputs were old models based on government distribution systems, which are very, very inefficient.”
Fertilizer Distribution Challenges
He began to realize the cause of the poor quality of agriproduct distribution in Africa during his time as Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. As he writes on LinkedIn, “When I came on board as minister of agriculture in July of 2011, I found a corrupt and totally inefficient fertilizer sector. The government was spending huge amounts of money on direct procurement and distribution of subsidized fertilizer, but less than 11% of farmers got the fertilizers. Some of the fertilizers paid for by government were never delivered to the warehouses. Some of the fertilizer delivered contained more sand than fertilizer while a large portion of the fertilizer subsidized by government found its way across our borders to neighboring countries where it was sold at prevailing market prices.”
This is a problem highlighted by a recent report by the UN operated organization Africa Renewal, which states that, “Heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, combined with high transportation costs and the absence of suppliers in the countryside, has meant that African farmers pay between two and six times the average world price for fertilizer — when they can find it at all. An International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) study estimated that it costs more to move a kilogram of fertilizer from an African port to a farm 100 kilometres inland than it costs to move it from a factory in the US to the port. With millions of African family farmers surviving on less than a dollar a day, imported fertilizer is simply unaffordable.”
Organic vs Chemical Fertilizer Use in Africa
This has left many African farmers relying on organic fertilizer alone to replenish soil that has been intensively farmed for years. As Natasha Gilbert, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper recently observed, “Organic fertilizer can help freshen up Africa’s ailing, rusty-red soils, but there is not enough land available to produce manure in sufficient quantities, says Professor Ken Giller, a soil scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. One cow can produce about 15kg of nitrogen in manure annually. But a healthy maize crop needs up to 100kg of nitrogen a hectare, Giller says.”
This has created incredibly low farm productivity, and an environment which is crying out for agriproduct manufacturers to begin distributing farm products to Africa. As Giller points out, “Harvests have stagnated on the continent since the 1960s, according to data from the World Bank. On average, farmers in Africa harvest about one ton of maize (corn) a hectare, whereas their American counterparts reap up to 12 tons.”
Effective Fertilizer Distribution
So, the question becomes, how to get the chemical fertilizer that African farmers need to the rural communities. Which is where prize winning Adesina may have the answer, when he said, “I thought the best way to [provide fertilizer and agriproducts to Africa farmers] is to support rural entrepreneurs to have their own small shops to sell seeds and fertilizers to farmers.”
He continues by outlining how, “We started these agro-dealer networks and they spread over Africa. It brought farm inputs closer to farmers and it encouraged the private sector into the rural space.”
Now that many networks have been established, more and more agriproduct sales teams and fertilizer manufacturers are starting to join the trend. The need for more farming products is evident, but the challenge for fertilizer distributors is in proving the value of their fertilizer products.
It is important for African farmers to understand the benefits of soil nutrition, and how applying the right amount of fertilizer, at the right time will more than pay back the money invested. To continue to farm without replenishing the soil will lead to diminishing productivity and hunger. It is the fertilizer supplier’s task to provide the correct product and information to allow African farmers to make smart decisions.
Meanwhile, Adesina and the African Development Bank will continue to support fertilizer distributors who are willing to take on the challenge of selling agrichemicals in Africa. As he says, “The award is not just about recognition for me, it is also about putting the wind behind the sails of what still needs to be done in African agriculture.”
A wind which also blows in the sails and sales of the fertilizer industry.
“The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.” the BBC reports, “Dr Adesina will receive the US $250,000 prize at the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium, which is held in the US to “help further the discussion on cutting-edge global food security issues and inspire the next generation to end hunger.”
If you want to learn more about agrichemical distribution in Africa, then you can read more via this link; Tips in Trading Chemicals in Africa.
Photo credit: goodhabaritanzania
For centuries, historians have marvelled at the artistic techniques applied in building the ancient sites of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. While civil engineers have been in awe at the construction techniques employed in building the Pantheon. Construction chemical suppliers and manufacturers, however, have been less interested in the wonders of Rome, as for years the recipe for making Roman concrete has been (for the most part) known; volcanic ash, lime (the product of baked limestone), and water.
But now it seems that construction chemical producers can still learn something from how the Romans made concrete, and it may well change thinking in the construction chemical sector. This is because a research team working at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have used X-rays to microscopically analyse segments of Roman concrete and found that the use of seawater in building harbours and piers in the Roman Empire may have given the concrete extra durability.
As the Berkeley Lab website reports, “The team’s earlier work at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), an X-ray research center known as a synchrotron, found that crystals of aluminous tobermorite, a layered mineral, played a key role in strengthening the concrete as they grew in relict lime particles.”
The research team believe that the tobermorite crystallized in the lime as the Roman concrete generated heat when exposed to sea water. This led the team to carry out a more detailed study of the harbor walls using an electron microscope to map the distribution of elements.
As the BBC reports, “The team also used two other techniques, X-ray micro-diffraction and Raman spectroscopy, to gain a deeper understanding of the chemistry at play.” This allowed the chemists to find, “significant amounts of tobermorite growing through the fabric of the concrete, with a related, porous mineral called phillipsite. The researchers say that the long-term exposure to sea water helped these crystals to keep on growing over time, reinforcing the concrete and preventing cracks from developing.”
Berkeley lab also notes how, “The minerals form fine fibers and plates that make the concrete more resilient and less susceptible to fracture over time. They may explain an ancient observation by the Roman scientist Pliny the Elder, who opined that the concrete, ‘as soon as it comes into contact with the waves of the sea and is submerged, becomes a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.’”
This image, from a scanning electron microscope, shows formations of aluminous tobermite crystals in a volcanic ash sample from the Campi Flegrei Volcano in Italy. X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source have helped researchers to understand how these crystals develop over time to strengthen ancient Roman concrete structures. The scale bar at lower right represents 20 microns, or 20 millionths of a meter.
“Contrary to the principles of modern cement-based concrete,” said lead author Marie Jackson from the University of Utah, USA, “the Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater.”
As the study states (pdf), “The cementing fabrics of Roman concrete breakwaters and piers constructed with volcanic ash mortars provide a well-constrained template for developing cementitious technologies through low-temperature rock-fluid interactions, cation-exchange, and carbonation reactions that occur long after an initial phase of reaction with lime.” It continues by outlining in detail how, “Roman marine concretes can provide guidelines for the optimal selection of natural volcanic pozzolans that have the potential to produce of regenerative cementitious resilience through long-term crystallization of zeolite, Al-tobermorite, and strätlingite mineral cements.”
While at present much of the research may seem like the abstract examination of old seawalls, the discovery is not only surprising, but also may lead to the development of improved modern concretes. As Berkeley Lab reports, “The work ultimately could lead to a wider adoption of concrete manufacturing techniques with less environmental impact than modern Portland cement manufacturing processes, which require high-temperature kilns. These are a significant contributor to industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which add to the build-up of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.”
Knowing how concrete changes, and even grows, over time, could also be used to make a concrete that has less environmental impact. If that is the case, then the construction chemical sector could be on the edge of a new era.
Global governments are fighting for new ways to lower carbon emissions, the demand for concrete has never been higher, and the third world will soon be looking to construct the high-rise buildings enjoyed by the developed world. As ocean levels rise over the coming decades, the need to build sea walls will also increase, meaning that knowing what the Romans knew about concrete could help construction chemical suppliers everywhere.
Photo credit: University of Utah
Photo credit: JP Oleson
Adhesives have come a long way in recent years. The demand for ever stronger bonds has grown, as the need for replacing stitching, nails, and bolts has grown; and as materials have adapted, so have adhesives. Today, people are less likely to need to bind wood and metal together, as the use of rubber, plastic, ceramics, and glass has become more popular.
More modern materials, such as hydrogels, have even more elasticity, and are being used in all manner of places, for example modern robotics, contact lenses, and soft bone replacement treatments (such as in the vertebrae). They are called hydrogels because of the large amounts of water they contain, and they are highly adaptable materials.
However, up until now, there has not been an adequate adhesive to join two hydrogels together, as most modern glues turn rigid and stiff when they bond. When the hydrogels move, they create stresses and fractures in the adhesive, thus weakening the bond.
But now a team of researchers from Johannes Kepler University, in Linz, Austria, have developed a glue that is able to maintain high levels of flexibility, even after it has bonded.
The research team began by examining the properties of modern, household, superglue, and found that while it was a strong adhesive, “…it would not work [as a hydrogel adhesive] because when it dries, it becomes hard—that means that when two stretchy materials are bonded together, the glue cracks when both are stretched. That led them to conclude that what was needed was a non-solvent—a material that would not dissolve into the glue and would prevent it from becoming hard.”
The resulting adhesive, as the scientific journal Phys.org reports, “is a glue made with cyanoacrylates (the adherents in superglue) diluted with a non-solvent. When it is applied to two surfaces, the researchers explain, it diffuses into their outer layers and is triggered to polymerize by the water content, such as in a hydrogel. Put another way, they say that the glue becomes tangled with the polymer chains in a gel, creating a very tight bond—and thus far, it has worked really well.”
You can learn more about this discovery on the YouTube video here.
The highly successful results have been published in the online research sharing journal Science Advances. Where the report notes that the new adhesive is, “… a facile, universally applicable method for instant tough bonding of hydrogels to a wide variety of materials—from soft to hard—with unprecedented interfacial toughness exceeding the intrinsic fracture strength of the gels.”
The report continues by outlining exactly how wide a range of materials the glue was tested on, namely, “We carried out the 90° peeling tests of hydrogels bonded to poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA; 3 mm, Evonik Industries), PET (1 mm, Evonik Industries), PI (125 μm, Kapton DuPont), nitrile rubber (VWR nitrile examination gloves), polyisoprene rubber (460 μm, Oppo Band 8016), VHB4905 (500 μm, 3M), PDMS (Dow Corning Sylgard 184), Ecoflex (Ecoflex 00-30, Smooth-On), leather and bone (pork shoulder blade), chromium-coated metals (aluminium and copper), and chromium-coated glass and to hydrogels. We note that silicone elastomers (PDMS and Ecoflex) require surface pre-treatment with a commercially available primer (Loctite SF770, Henkel) to promote wetting of the adhesive dispersion; all other materials were used without pre-treatment.”
It is interesting to note the research team’s inclination to glue an electronic circuit to human skin. Whether this superglue will herald a new wave of consumer wearable electronics or not, remains to be seen. However, as hydrogels are permeable, the adhesive could be used to make flexible skins that delivery water soluble drugs, or adhere electronic sensors almost directly to the body. As the report notes, “We apply our approach to create a new set of soft machines and electronics and to demonstrate instant healing, adaptive optics, soft actuators and generators, tough batteries, and hydrogel electronic skins. Applications range from robotics, energy harvesting from renewable sources, consumer electronics, and wearables, to a new class of medical tools and health monitors.”
Clearly an adhesive of such versatility has numerous applications, for its water-permeability, coupled with the glue’s quick fixing time, its flexibility, its strength, and ultra-thinness, opens up a world of possibilities. Anywhere, where flexible, movable parts need to be connected – strongly – is a place where his glue could be stuck.
So where would you stick it?