ZIMBABWE faces another poor harvest even if it receives good rains in the coming season because of a critical shortage of fertiliser.
An official from the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC) told the Zimbabwe Independent
this week that domestic fertiliser production had been hampered by critical foreign currency shortages, power cuts, inefficient rail transport, shortage of fuel and a major breakdown at the only manufacturer of ammonium nitrate in the country.
“There is no fertiliser as we speak. There is no guarantee that it will be made available,” the official said. “There is a lot of chaos which ranges from a few individuals benefiting, the product being over-priced and people importing the same type over the past month,” he said.
Information at hand suggests that the beneficiaries from the limited fertiliser are mostly senior government officials on A2 farms.
However, most of them have a lesser need for the fertiliser at this time of the year as they are mostly maize growers who depend on rain-fed cropping than tobacco farmers who have already started planting and are facing fertiliser shortage.
Zimbabwe Association of Tobacco Growers chairman, Julius Ngorima, told the Independent this week that the unavailability of fertliser could affect production as the amount of hectares planted depends on the quantity of fertliser available.
“Most tobacco farmers are at the ridging stage, where compound C fertiliser should be applied for about two weeks, before being transplanted. Once transplanted, ammonium nitrate fertiliser is immediately applied,” Ngorima said.
“Farmers are stranded as they do not know what to do as fertiliser is not available on the market. Indications are that the situation might not improve soon.”
The country requires about 650 000 tonnes of fertiliser every cropping season. According to agricultural experts, Zimbabwe is capable of producing about 300 00 tonnes.
The price rose by almost 100% last month triggered by a sharp rise in the cost of transporting ammonium.
A 50 kilogramme bag of ammonium nitrate now costs $4 900, from $2 200, while farmers must fork out $6 000 for a 50 kg of Compound D. The same quantity is selling for about $12 000 on the parallel market.
The country’s major fertiliser manufacturing plants have been operating below capacity due to problems which include lack of foreign exchange to import raw materials like sulphur, potash and anhydrous ammonia.
Tardy service by the NRZ has resulted in substantially increased costs especially when road transport has to be used as an alternative.
A transformer that blew up at Sable Chemicals, the main supplier of most inorganic compound fertilisers used in Zimbabwe, has crippled production.
Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made accused a monkey for the breakdown.
“Our investigations have shown that a monkey caused damage to a transformer, thereby sabotaging our preparations for this coming season,” Made was quoted as saying last week.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet)’s latest report, Zimbabwe is in desperate need of US$42 million to import raw materials and machinery to produce the required amount of fertiliser.
Fewsnet however said even if the money was made available it was no longer possible for local firms to import raw materials and meet national requirements in the little time left before the onset of the rainy season.
“In the time left, domestic fertiliser manufacturing capacity is inadequate to produce the required fertilisers even if all the required foreign currency was to be secured,” Fewsnet said. “Fertiliser imports will have to be undertaken to augment locally available stocks,” it added.
Fertiliser shortage is a perennial problem in Zimbabwe, and farmers have warned the farming season starting next month will be bad if no imports of the commodity are made urgently.
Agricultural production in Zimbabwe has plummeted in recent years due to controversial government polices, shortages of inputs and drought. This has forced the country to import food in the last four years. — Staff Writer.