Big boost for farmers . . . as they agree to work across borders to boost crop production
Southern Times Writer
The low rate of fertiliser use in the SADC region, and the African continent at large, has been one of the key reasons for low agricultural yields which have translated into the high incidence of poverty and hunger. Fertiliser use among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world, averaging 10 to 12 kg per hectare. This compares poorly to regions such as Asia where the average consumption is over 200kg per hectare.
To counter this problem, the East and Southern Africa Fertiliser trade platform (ESAF) has agreed to form partnerships that will increase the supply of fertiliser to small-scale farmers in East and Southern Africa.
This first annual meeting of ESAF was held in Zambia recently to provide a platform for public-private dialogue and joint action in order to increase the amount of fertiliser the private sector produces, imports and distributes in East and Southern Africa.
Speaking at the meeting, Dr Namanga Ngongi, African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) board of trustees chairperson said: “These deliberations show us that we can come together from different sectors and mobilise resources to ensure increased fertiliser supply to smallholder farmers.”
A key outcome of the meeting was the agreement by delegates to set up working groups to address regional market integration, alternative financing mechanisms and risk management tools as well as capacity building across the fertiliser value chain for joint action.
They also agreed to facilitate access to finance, promote capacity building, establish agro-businesses, promote infrastructure development and engage industry associations.
Fertiliser production in Zimbabwe has over the years been low as production companies struggled with high overhead costs coupled with power shortages which have seen the industry operating at 30 percent capacity.
This has put fertiliser beyond the reach of many small-holder farmers.
Many African governments have come up with efforts to provide farming inputs to small-scale farmers in their countries.
And in Zimbabwe, about 300 000 small-scale farmers across the country will benefit from the $28 million Presidential Well Wishers Input Scheme for the 2015/16 farming season.
The inputs are expected to increase yields and improve food security for the elderly and orphans, who are some of the beneficiaries. While the programme will help many families, it will not completely meet demand for fertiliser in the country.
Experts say Zimbabwe needs to import approximately 100 000 tonnes of fertiliser for the 2015/16 season to help fill the gap left by local production.
But Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa on Tuesday said local fertiliser distributors have adequate stocks to supply farmers with ammonium nitrate for the upcoming cropping season despite the closure of Sable Chemicals, the sole producer of ammonium nitrate fertiliser in the country.
Sable Chemicals halted operations after the ZESA Holdings switched off the 40MW power line dedicated to the company.
The fertiliser industry has the capacity to produce one million tonnes of fertiliser per year, but the maximum it has produced was 600 000 tonnes in 1999.
Fertiliser industry spokesman Misheck Kachere recently said an increase in the production capacity from 30 percent to 80 percent might lower unit production costs and trigger a decline in prices.
“We want to play our part in terms of Zim-Asset, value addition and beneficiation. We have a programme to recapitalise the industry. We have established a working capital of $120 million from local facilities and consignment stock collateral,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe has a manufacturing industry which makes local fertilisers competitive against those from its regional counterparts except South Africa.
However, farming inputs in other countries are heavily subsidised by government and this in turn make them more affordable, as is the case in Malawi.
For several years since the 2005/06 season, Malawi hit the international headlines for pioneering the implementation of “smart” subsidies which broke the vicious cycle of chronic hunger and food shortage. This saw smallholder farmers receive two bags of fertiliser, 50 kg each for basal and top dressing, 5 kg of hybrid seed and 2 kg of legumes through the fertiliser subsidy programme. The country was able to feed itself for the first time in two decades without resorting to either food aid or commercial food imports.
Although the country has been continuously hit by economic challenges, the subsidy programme continues to be implemented.
According to the World Bank, Malawi is now ranked the poorest country in the world based on GDP per capita, with over half of its population still living below the poverty datum line — earning less than $1 per day.
The ESAF meeting held in Zambia was in support of COMESA’s fertiliser programme, which seeks to take the procurement and distribution of the commodity through the creation, growth and strengthening of about 500 agribusiness companies in the region.
Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya said stakeholders should recognise agriculture’s contribution to the economy.
“When we talk of agriculture, it is more than fertiliser, it is about economies. We are confident that this historic event will improve market integration, infrastructure development and industrialisation in the region,” he said.