Farmers preparing for this year’s rain-fed crop production are expressing worry over the increasing difficulty in accessing fertiliser due to both unavailability and high prices of the key farm input.
The situation, farmers who spoke to our reporters said, would further worsen the decrease in farm output, which is partly responsible for the present high cost of food items in the country.
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Already, kidnapping, banditry and other forms of insecurity have adversely affected the country’s food production as many farmers have been forced to abandon their farms and farming activities.
Farmers in areas prone to insecurity now rely on close-by, often overstressed lands to farm, making its demand for fertiliser necessary to boost fertility for bountiful output.
Many farmers in the country rely more on wet season farming because of the shortage of functioning irrigation facilities for the dry season farming.
With the rains already here, there is fear among farmers over the inability of many of them to procure fertilizer, especially the Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous (NPK) variety because of high cost.
The farmers’ fear is further heightened by a recent statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Mohammed Sabo Nanono that the ministry will, from this year, hands-off issues relating to the purchase and sale of fertiliser.
In an interaction with Daily Trust recently, the minister said henceforth, the ministry would no longer involve itself in fertilizer sale but limit its role to monitoring, regulation and supervision.
Before now, the ministry often bought farm inputs, including fertiliser and sold same to farmers at subsidised rates across the country.
The farmers are also concerned that the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI), anchored by the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN), is yet to make available the NPK 20:10:10 fertiliser and its price for this year even as the rainy season crop production activities have begun in the southern states.
Launched in December 2016, the PFI came up with NPK 20:10:10 that replaced NPK 15:15:15, which many experts faulted, as too flat because of the differences in soil nutrients across the country.
The PFI, in the last four years, sold the 50kg bag at N5, 500. It, however, sold same at N5, 000 last year due to the economic meltdown hinged on the COVID-19 pandemic. That helped poor farmers to increase their productivity.
But the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), through its National President, Architect Kabiru Ibrahim, had while confirming the farmers’ concerns about access to fertiliser this year said: “Farmers are fearful that the fertiliser would not be readily available and affordable as in the last four years due to delays in releasing the new price and the commodity itself.
“The prices across the states now range between N6,700 and N8,000 for NPK and N8,800 to N13,000 for Urea. The AFAN chairmen in states across all the geopolitical zones furnished us with this verifiable information.”
Architect Ibrahim also expressed concern that “farmers in some states in the South have commenced production in earnest but without any subsidy reaching them.
“There is also fear that by the time the PFI fertiliser arrives, it might be too late for application to their crops,” this season.
The farmers warned that Nigeria was already witnessing a rise in the price of food crops and serious food inflation, adding that rising prices of fertilisers would further heighten food insecurity.
Farmers in states already losing hope
Farmers interviewed in some states said they are losing hope already regarding access to inputs, especially fertilisers as the prices of inputs continue going up.
Our correspondent in Kano reports that small-holder farmers now find it difficult to access the federal government’s subsidised fertiliser.
The state chairman of AFAN, Abdulrashid Magaji Rimingado, said farmers in the state have lost hope of accessing subsidised fertiliser, especially that of the federal government.
He explained that the protocols required farmers to buy the fertiliser by truckload which, he said, poor farmers can’t afford, adding that even when farmers formed groups to access the input, their monies were often taken without the fertiliser supplied on time, thereby making the farmers to completely lose confidence in the system.
He added that as farmers prepare for this year’s wet season, there is the need for government to address the prevailing bottlenecks to save the peasant farmers, who are in the majority.
“As I speak to you now, there is no government fertiliser in the market even though the rainy season is approaching. The national body of AFAN has constituted a committee to address this issue. I am the secretary of that committee, it is hoped that we will be able to proffer suggestions as well as measures to ease access to fertiliser by the common farmer,” the Kano AFAN chairman said.
In the open market in Kano State, a bag of NPK fertiliser is sold for between N7,500 and N8,000.
Reports from Cross River State indicate that planting of some crops has commenced, with farmers hoping for God’s intervention regarding access to farm inputs, especially fertiliser.
Our correspondent reports that farmers in the state have already told Nigerians not to expect a bountiful harvest of crops this year considering how the issue of inputs is being handled by the government.
The state chairman of AFAN, Mr Nathaniel Ilem, said they could not fathom why the federal government’s subsidised fertilisers were nowhere to be found even with the commencement of planting in many areas.
He warned that if the price of the input went beyond farmers’ purchasing power, it would be very difficult to record an increase in food production this year.
“How can we do that, especially with maize that requires specific fertiliser? Lack of fertiliser will badly affect maize yields.
“Nigerians should not expect bountiful harvest of crops this year. As it is, we don’t know what to do. The increasing cost of fertiliser will affect the farmers and ultimately the common man. This means food security is threatened,’’ the farmers’ leader said.
Similarly in Benue State, farmers are worried over their inability to buy fertiliser even as the planting season draws closer.
The state chairman of AFAN, Aondongu Saaku, said there is no communication between the federal or state governments and farmers about any arrangement on the availability of fertiliser for this year’s farming season.
He said he was aware that subsidy has been completely removed from fertiliser by the federal government and there was also nothing yet to suggest that the state government would augment the input for farmers this year.
The government is yet to pay contractors the backlog of two years’ subsidy.
“As we speak, there are about 100 trailers at the fertilizer blending plant in the Industrial Area of Makurdi. The federal government gave the contract to the plant and they are selling by trailer load, not bags.
“At the production site, a bag of fertilizer is sold for N8000 and a truckload (600 bags), at the cost of N4.8 million. So it means farmers cannot afford it unless they team up to buy a truckload to distribute among themselves,” Saaku added.
Reports from Rivers, Oyo and Kwara States also showed the same fears among farmers as they are also unable to access farm inputs.
Farmers in Kwara State pleaded with the federal government not to hands-off fertilizer as such action could spell doom for food production in the country.
A member of the farmers’ association in Rivers State, who pleaded anonymity because he has no authority to speak, said the price of NPK had gone up significantly in the open market while government subsidised ones were nowhere to be found even with the commencement of planting in many areas.
He said many farmers in the state who had the means were borrowing money to buy fertiliser while those that could not afford the high cost of fertiliser resort to the use of compost manure.
We are blending 1.5m tons this year – FEPSAN
President of the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN), the organisation with the mandate to implement the PFI, Mr Thomas Etuh, said members of FEPSAN have a combined production capacity of 1.5 million metric tonnes of blended NPK fertiliser for 2021, up from one million metric tonnes in 2020.
Mr. Etuh insisted that the PFI initiative had lifted the country from scarcity to availability of the essential agro-input.
He said the success of the initial mandate since its launch in 2016 was being leveraged upon to further widen opportunities for 2021.
According to him, “There were only four blending plants in Nigeria operating at less than 40 per cent capacity. But today, we are proud to announce the existence of 40 blending plants in the country, all operating at 100 per cent capacity. Today, we are proud to announce that all the blending plants in Nigeria source 60 per cent of their raw material locally.”
“We are at a level where the country can boast of annual production of 6.5 million metric tonnes of Urea. With Dangote bringing in a fresh 3 million metric tonnes, and the 3 million being produced by Indorama and the 500,000 metric tonnes from Notore,” Etuh stated.
Can Dangote fertiliser plant come to the rescue?
Some experts in the sector believe that with the coming of Dangote’s two-billion-dollar granulated Urea fertiliser plant located at Ibeju Lekki, Lagos, relief is in sight regarding the country’s fertiliser challenge, especially urea fertiliser.
Mr Akinbowale Jonshon, an agric economist, told Daily Trust on the phone that the plant, said to be the largest in the world, was capable of blending three million tons of urea fertiliser in addition to the millions being produced by Indorama and the 500,000 tons by the Notore.
This, he said, would be more than enough to meet the country’s current urea fertiliser demand.
But some farmers were pessimistic about it, saying Dangote fertiliser can only ease the challenge if its price is affordable.
“You can see what is happening with Dangote Cement, how can one say that the cement plant is helping the industry when the price is still unaffordable to many,’’ Ahmed Sanni, a farmer in Bwari, FCT, said.
The farmers said Dangote Fertiliser was not even available in many markets with its price also still unknown. “So until then, we can’t say the plant will be the farmers’ messiah regarding fertiliser.’’
Expert canvases for soil, crop-specific fertiliser
However, scientists at the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria said the country should place more emphasis on crop-specific fertiliser instead of blanket formulations such as the NPK 20:10:10 and NPK 15:15:15.
Speaking with Daily Trust, a crop breeder, Professor Ishiyaku Mohammed said: “I think we will have to go to the crop-specific formulation of fertiliser and this means that for maize, groundnuts and sorghum we shouldn’t have the same recommendation.
“Scientific evidence has shown that crop-specific fertiliser is more economical for the country. Scientists are convinced of the appropriate combination for each crop.”
Professor Ishiyaku, who is the Chief Executive Officer of IAR, said it was time for Nigeria to move away from blanket formula fertiliser brands.
“The federal government’s position is dictated by the perception that what is lacking in our soil is nitrogen. Nitrogen is very fundamental for crop growth but crop-specific in nitrogen demand is also known by scientists,” he stressed.
The scientist, therefore, called on the federal government, stakeholders in the fertilizer industry, producers, marketers and farmers to come together agree and “expect this kind of shift” for higher agricultural productivity.
By Hussein Yahaya, Vincent A. Yusuf (Abuja), Ibrahim M. Giginyu (Kano), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Hope A. Emmanuel (Makurdi), & Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt)