Malawians who do not benefit from government subsidies under the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) will have a torrid time to buy fertiliser this year as the price of the soil-enriching substance has shot up astronomically, hitting a new high of K75,000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag.
A snap survey which The Daily Times conducted in Lilongwe at the weekend revealed that most retailers are pegging a bag of Urea fertiliser at between K70,000 and K75,000. In Blantyre, the prices are ranging from K68,000 to K76,000.
The development is likely to threaten prospects of a good harvest in the 2022- 23 agricultural season, with Farmers Union of Malawi Chief Executive Officer Jacob Nyirongo indicating that some people may opt to buy maize instead of buying expensive fertiliser f o r application in their fields.
The survey also revealed that the price of NPK was relatively lower than that of Urea, hovering at between K55,000 and K60,000 in both Lilongwe and Blantyre.
We also found that the price of Super D fertiliser, which is used in tobacco production, has equally rocketed to between K80,000 and K90,000 per 50 kg bag.
The survey also revealed that prices are even higher as one moves away from the main cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, with retailers putting a mark-up to cater for transport and logistics costs.
Nyirongo feared for the worst.
“High prices of fertiliser have a direct negative impact on farmers in that most farmers will not be able to access the fertiliser, which will result in lower food production and productivity. These [low production of food and farmers’ productivity] will have a knock on effect on nutrition, income and job creation,” he said.
The Malawi Multidimensional Poverty Index for 2021 indicates that the majority of the population, farmers inclusive, suffers from multidimensional poverty.
Nyirongo added that the cost of production for crops such as tea, tobacco, sugar and coffee will also increase as farmers may resort to such crops for the time being.
He said, considering current circumstances, there is a need for farmers to use fertiliser prudently.
“Farmers that will be able to access fertiliser must prudently use the fertiliser by making sure they apply the fertiliser at the right time and use improved seed. Farmers should also use manure so that they can improve soil health. This will help their crops respond better [than before] to fertiliser application.
“Farmers should also plant crops that do not require heavy application of fertiliser but are important for nutrition and income. These include legumes, fruits, vegetables, cassava and sweet potatoes,” Nyirongo said.
National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi Chief Executive Officer Betty Chinyamunyamu described the unprecedented hikes in fertiliser prices as “a wakeup call”.
“As such, there is a need for farmers to embrace the use of both organic as well as inorganic fertilisers. Malawi’s soils have become degraded due to poor soil health management practices. As such, the country should focus more on soil and water conservation practices which would help it reduce overdependence on inorganic fertilisers.
“Due to these high prices, most smallholders will be unable to produce such crops as maize and tobacco. These crops require fertiliser. Unfortunately, reduced production of these crops, being the main food and cash crops in the country, will have major implications on food security as well as farmers’ incomes,” Chinyamunyamu said.
She suggested that farmers focus on alternative crops that produce decent yields even without inorganic fertilisers.
She cited groundnuts, chillies and most legumes.
“Further, they must integrate organic manure as well as follow better soil and water management practices,” Chinyamunyamu said.
Mwapata Institute Chief Executive Officer William Chadza said, at prevailing prices, fertilisers are out of the reach of some farmers.
Chadza said, given that inorganic fertiliser remains a key ingredient to increased agricultural productivity, the future of agriculture, particularly smallholder agriculture, remains uncertain in the short term.
He said the situation has been compounded by uncertainty over availability of fertiliser, both under AIP and commercial markets, because of the problem of forex challenge.
“Local farmers need to enhance the integration of organic fertilisers, notably manure. There is also a need to diversify and embrace crops that do not need significant application of chemical fertiliser, notably soya and groundnuts. These crops not only contribute to integrated soil fertility management but also have potential for forex generation”, he said.