Why focus is now on fertilisers

Labourers unload bags of fertilizers before arranging them in a warehouse ready for distribution to farmers in a past event. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • As of December 2021, agricultural activities accounted for nearly 30 percent of Tanzania’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and almost 75 percent of the country’s population living in rural areas.

Morogoro. Facing increasingly unpredictable weather and skyrocketing costs of agricultural inputs, the majority of small scale farmers are now forced to rely on traditional farming without application of fertilisers.

The hard workers on less than an hectare of land for growing different crops such as sugarcane, rice, maize, soybeans to name, but a few, are facing hardships in affording the market prices of fertilisers something that would definitely lead to declined productivity.

As of December 2021, agricultural activities accounted for nearly 30 percent of Tanzania’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and almost 75 percent of the country’s population living in rural areas.

There are about 3.7 million smallholder farmers, therefore, targeting small-scale agricultural systems is critical.

The cost of fertiliser was already high following the economic fallout caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, with the Russia–Ukraine war worsening the situation.

In March this year, the Tanzania Fertilizer Regulatory Authority (TFRA) released a statement to regulate the price of fertilisers sold in Tanzania.

On average, 50 kg bags of fertilizer were sold between Sh73,468 to Sh75,526, while 25 kg bags had an indicative price of Sh32,734 to Sh33,763 respectively.

Mr Bakari Mkangamwa, a representative of Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies (Amcos), told Mr Bashe, the minister for Agriculture that farmers are currently incurring high operation costs as compared to returns.

Mr Mkangamwa said that they are subjected to low yield because they do not have enough money to purchase appropriate fertilisers, forcing them to depend on traditional ways of farming which do not produce expected results.

“The government’s intervention is needed because fertilisers are sold at high prices. Since, we just use traditional knowledge on fertiliser application, we incur huge losses,” he lamented.

“We want to increase our yields, so we need more fertilisers. They are vital if we are to change the country’s agricultural sector. So, a simple government intervention will lead to huge results that will benefit both the government and farmers,” he added.

According to him, fertilisers subsidy to the farmers will reduce the price of chemicals, increase its availability and subsequently influence farm level efficiency and production.

Ms Mwanaidi Athuman, a farmer in Kidete village, Kilosa District, Morogoro Region said: “Although timely application and the types of applied fertilisers are crucial in increasing agricultural productivity, farmers are disappointed when they don’t get them.”

She is of the view that since fertilisation is one of the most important methods in agricultural production, then provision of subsidised fertilisers will have a positive impact on farmers especially when they are able to get appropriate products on time.

Therefore, such renewed efforts to stimulate and commercialise the sector, by improving farmers’ access to improved seeds varieties and subsidised fertilisers, will contribute to dramatic increases in the country’s agricultural productivity.

But, the above outcry that represents voices of many farmers from all corners of the country have been heard following the government’s decision to reintroduce subsidies to fertilisers, something that increases access among small scale farmers.

Govt’s interventions

Mr Bashe, told The Citizen that in her mission to revolutionise the country’s agriculture, President Samia Suluhu Hassan will launch the country’s Fertiliser Subsidy Programs during International Farmers Day 2022 popularly known as Nane Nane Day slated to take place in Mbeya Region.

“The government has committed to provide a Sh150 billion subsidy package for fertiliser importation and distribution for use by small-scale farmers in the 2022/23 Financial Year,” he said.

“This is in response to the world’s commodity price upsurge being the impacts of Covid-19 as well as the Russia aggression on the Ukraine,” added the minister who doubles as Nzega Urban Constituency legislator.

Mr Bashe said the government has also reintroduced the Fertilizer Bulk Procurement System (FBPS) through which the fertiliser price cap will take effect, something that will prevent traders from making arbitrary increases in fertiliser prices as seen in recent months.

Reports made it that unscrupulous traders have been hiking the price arbitrarily citing impacts of Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia – Ukraine war.

Sometimes, the increase in prices is uncalled for, hence the government decision sought to reinstate FBPS, and therefore control prices.

“I will not hesitate to forfeit the licence of any company that will not implement the FBPS and if it happens that all registered companies defy government directives, then I will have no alternative than deregistering the firms,”he said.

“I know, the country will face some fertiliser shortages in a few months, after which the situation will come to normalcy,” stressed Mr Bashe.

Components of the fertilizer prices in Tanzania as primarily an imported commodity from international suppliers, global commodity and transport prices are the principal determinants of the price that fertilizer users in Tanzania pay for the input.

A study on fertiliser supply in Tanzania estimates the average delivered cost of fertiliser to several upcountry regional trading centres to be over $600 per tonne.

Of this price, the Free-on-Board (FoB) commodity price at the source accounted for 65 percent of the total price, whereas transport from the shipping port to Dar es Salaam and on to the trading centres accounted for 22 percent.

But, the minister ascertains that subsidies have traditionally played an important role in the fertiliser pricing where they act as an incentive to boost production by reducing costs and at the same time represent the largest element of public expenditure in agriculture.

This in turn makes such an important contribution to high crop yields, its availability and use, quality, and price are important achievements in terms of increasing fertiliser usage and boosting agricultural production.

Word from Kabudi

But, Kilosa legislator, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi said: “The subsidised fertilisers programme is much needed, appreciating for the government’s re-introduction move.

According to him, the move will fuel our ambition to transform Kidete Ward located in the district as the country’s hub for red onions.

Furthermore, the former cabinet minister said price hike as far as the access of fertiliser is concerned, farmers, mostly from low-income earning families, were left out and could not manage to purchase adequate amounts of fertilisers, despite being in high demand.

TFRA plans on FBPS

During an interview with a local radio on July 19, 2022, the Tanzania Fertiliser Regulatory Authority (TFRA) executive director, Dr Stephan Ngailo said the government has prepared a system that would address challenges recorded during the past subsidy distribution systems to farmers.

He said fertiliser importers, distributors, traders and beneficiary farmers will be registered electronically to ensure that only intended farmers are provided with subsidised fertiliser.

“Registration will be done by respective extension officers in the wards and villages under collaboration and confirmation of village chairpersons. Later on, all farmer’s information will be lodged in the electronic system in order to smoothen the distribution process,” he said.

“Fertiliser manufacturers or importers will be supposed to use special subsidy bags for the packaging of fertilisers.

The packaging materials will have Quick Response (QR) codes and labelling that will inform farmers that it was a subsidised fertiliser that should be bought at a specific price,” he added.

During the interview, the acting TFRA, Bulk Procurement System (BPS) acting manager, Ms Elizabeth Bole said fertilisers traded under the subsidy conditions wasn’t a new concept, rather some improvements have been made to what used to happen in the past.

“Improvements aim to plug loopholes and embezzlement that benefited other individuals instead of intended farmers,” she said, substantiating that beneficiaries are those registered on the electronic system.

According to her, farmers’ registration will provide the name, village and size of his/her farm, something that will provide a picture of the quantity of fertiliser that will be required.