The international price of fertiliser has tripled over the course of the past 18 months. This has caused concern among farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it has sparked a debate as to whether fertiliser is even a necessary part of the farming process.
According to Sebastian Nduva, programme manager at study organisation AfricaFertilizer.Org, an industry long hailed for its development potential is likely to fall by about a third. He believes this could reduce cereal output by 30 million tonnes, which is enough to feed approximately 100 million people.
Sub-Saharan Africa already has the lowest fertiliser application rates in the world, averaging 12 kg per acre compared to 110 kg globally, and the threat to regional food security and political stability is growing as input costs rise. At a time when food prices are near record highs, this will increase the region’s reliance on imports. According to the World Food Programme, more than 20 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are on the verge of starvation.
What has caused the surge in prices?
Fertiliser prices rose last year as a result of rising gas prices, squeezing supply as plants closed and producers imposed export restrictions.
While fertiliser costs in the United States have fallen, those in Europe and the Middle East – Africa’s biggest suppliers – have yet to see any relief. A barometer of western European ammonia pricing is still at an all-time high. Tensions in Ukraine have pushed up natural gas prices in January of 2022, and any more escalation could send fertiliser costs much higher.
The high costs have slowed production at some of Sub-Saharan Africa’s more than 100 fertiliser blending factories, which rely heavily on nutrient imports. Stockpiles of the nutrients are running low as governments and traders postponed purchases in the anticipation of lower prices.
Small-scale farmers are the severely affected, accounting for more than 70% of fertiliser consumption in the region. Most people don’t have access to the kind of financing that would allow them to weather the price hikes.
Some industries are better positioned to withstand market volatility than others. Gains in cocoa and cotton will help some West African farmers cope with higher input costs.
Africa has also started or is expanding fertiliser production as part of a plan to reduce reliance on fertiliser imports from Europe and North America, which are sometimes unsuitable for the region’s soils. Investors – ranging from Morocco’s OCP Group to Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and Fertiplant East Africa – are investing in fertiliser production and delivery in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.
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