Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Fertilisers prices in Zimbabwe have broken new records with the sharpest rise in years as global supplies are hit by multiple factors including reduced supplies from Russia and Belarus and disruptions to the global supply chain.
The price of fertiliser went up by 55 percent in the latest round of price increases, piling pressure on local farmers and food producers who are battling huge increases in operational costs.
This comes on the back of an earlier increase in January which saw the price of ammonium nitrate going up by 120 percent to US$1 400 per tonne in January 2022, from US$625 the same period last year, according to Sable Chemicals, the country’s sole manufacturer of ammonium nitrate.
By January, a 50kg bag of ammonium nitrate cost between US$45 and US$55, up from about US$30 last year.
The fertilizers sold in formal shops now cost between ZWL$25 000 and ZWL$28 600 a bag while others demanding US dollars only are charging between US$68 and US$78 a bag.
“While it is understood that the prices of fertilisers and other related commodities are going up worldwide, the Zimbabwe situation is worrisome. Profiteering among our suppliers is out of this world. Compared to countries around us, we are not competitive at all,” said Zimbabwe Farmers Union secretary-general Paul Zakariya.
“Hikes in the price of fertiliser means that production costs will increase against normally depressed producer prices. Grower viability is heavily compromised. Productivity will also be compromised as farmers may try to stretch the little they have to cover wider areas.”
All this means that farmers have to absorb substantial costs for the 2022 – 2023 cropping season.
Additionally, the cost of chemicals has gone up by 20 percent, diesel 35 percent and labour up by 45 percent in US dollar terms apart from the 55 percent increase in the price of fertiliser, Zakariya said.
Said Abel Chipuriro, a Mhangura farmer: “Fertiliser is now expensive and this is coming at a time when our producer prices are no longer viable. I do not know what I will do to survive this season. I cannot afford a bag of fertiliser which now costs between US$68 and US$78 in most shops.
“Most retailers are refusing the local currency.”
Martha Moyo, a farmer from Goromonzi said farmers are reeling from the burden of rising operational costs.
“Fuel, chemicals and fertilisers have all gone up. Farming is no longer viable. We are being stretched to the limit. If we cut costs too much we will compromise on the quality of our products,” she said.
“The Russia – Ukraine conflict has made things worse but our retailers should charge reasonable prices to make agriculture in Zimbabwe viable.”
Around the world, prices of fertilisers have been breaking records over the past year due to Covid -19 related transport disruptions and now the Russian – Ukraine conflict.
Russia, which is contending with Western sanctions, produces large quantities of key chemicals used in the production of fertilisers. It also supplies much of the natural gas used to produce ammonia – a major component of nitrogen fertilisers.
Russia is one of the major players in global agricultural markets and the country is a significant exporter of grains and supplier of inputs, particularly fertiliser.
The country is a leading world supplier of the key ingredients of a range of them as well as fertiliser mixtures include minerals or chemicals ranging from nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium.
For Zimbabwe, fertiliser constitutes a significant share to securing the country’s food security and also substantial share of input costs.
The conflict is making other countries aware of their dependency on Russia for fertiliser with developing countries hardest hit.
Soaring prices are causing farmers to adjust their planting strategies. They are also pushing farmers to alternatives to conventional fertilisers.
“Let’s invest in organic fertilisers. Look at the amount of organic waste emanating from fresh produce markets across the country. We can use earthworms – through vermicomposting to make organic fertilisers. Look at Mbare – Musika for instance, there’s just so much we can do only if we commit to it,” said Dr Maria Goss, an agroecology and farming systems specialist.
“If we promote the use of organic fertilisers we can reduce our reliance on synthetic fertilisers which are expensive and unsustainable. If we don’t invest in organic fertiliser through research and development, then these costs will exacerbate the food and nutrition insecurity situation.”
When asked for comment, Zimbabwe Fertilizer Company managing director Dr Richard Dafana said he was in a meeting.
Dr Dafana is the spokesman for the fertiliser industry. He has in the past said farmers must brace for high fertiliser prices due to the volatile global markets.
Zimbabwe’s demand for fertiliser in a normal farming season stands around 600 000 tonnes, of which 70 percent goes towards Government farming programmes.
The country spends US$662 million on average for fertiliser imports a year.