Government has moved a gear up in trying to avert fertiliser shortages during the winter and summer cropping seasons, with plans already underway to ramp up domestic production, Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza revealed.
She, however, gave assurances that there are “reasonable stocks” for the winter season, although there might be need to import to augment available quantities. During the summer season, Zimbabwe needs about 600 000 tonnes of both fertilisers (compounds and top dressing).
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has partly led to reduced fertiliser shipments and record-high prices, with far-reaching consequences for farmers.
With Russia’s status as a primary exporter of ammonia, knock-on effects from sanctions imposed by Western countries over its strategic military operation in Ukraine have disrupted the fertiliser supply chain, triggering concerns over food security in many parts of the world.
Last year, Russia and Belarus accounted for 40 percent of global exports of potash.
Moscow also accounted for 22 percent of global exports of ammonia gas, 14 percent of global urea exports and 14 percent of mono-ammonium phosphate.
These are key ingredients for manufacturing fertiliser.
“We have reasonable stocks for the winter season but we may still need to import,” Dr Nzenza told The Sunday Mail Business.
“But we urgently need to boost local production in preparation for the summer cropping season (because) prices will continue rising and shortages will hit us hard.”
Zimbabwe is targeting 75 000 hectares of wheat and 7 000 ha of barley during the winter season. There are already growing calls to boost local production of wheat to insulate the country from price hikes and supply chain disruptions, given that Russia and Ukraine supply more than 25 percent of the world’s wheat.
Zimbabwe millers supplement local production with imports from Russia for blending.
Dr Nzenza said the Government will need to urgently avail nearly US$70 million to recapitalise Dorowa Minerals – the country’s sole phosphates miner – and Zimbabwe Phosphate Company (Zimphos), which processes the superphosphates into nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium compound (NPK) fertilisers.
“We need US$16 million for Dorowa and US$52 million for Zimphos to modernise their plants.
“This will help reduce our over-reliance on imports. My ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture are working together to ensure adequate supplies. This will also minimise the impact of price increases of fertiliser.”
The Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Mr Paul Zakaria said ramping up local capacity was critical to avert shortages and “keep the prices reasonably lower”.
“Prices have been going up, which is an indication that supplies are constrained.
“We may have enough or near enough for the winter, but what is now critical is to start building our capacity to be self-reliant and reduce the costs of fertiliser.”
Agricultural economist Dr Midway Bhunu suggested that recapitalising existing operations and expansion and promoting organic fertiliser manufacturing were now “critical”.
“We cannot afford to fold our hands as a country watching the fertiliser prices increasing by more than 200 percent due to forces beyond our control,” he said.
“I strongly recommend that Government seriously considers reviving inorganic fertiliser plants in the country and promote organic fertiliser manufacturing. We have the capacity, infrastructure and raw materials to manufacture organic fertiliser.
“Agriculture provides 60 percent of raw materials to the manufacturing industry; as such, its collapse will come with serious negative ripple effects to the economy.”
Dr Bhunu noted that the global organic fertiliser market was growing, and is estimated to expand to US$$16 billion in 2030.
“There is great opportunity for us to manufacture these fertilisers and end up exporting, in addition to creating employment and meeting our demand.
“We have export crops such as coffee, whose markets are now calling for organic certification, so, one way or the other, we shall see an increase in local demand for organic fertilisers, especially for horticulture crops.”
In 2020, Zimbabwe launched a five-year roadmap aimed at reducing fertiliser imports by leveraging on local firms.
The country, whose economy is agro-based, has been importing significant quantities of fertiliser as local firms are struggling to meet demand largely due to foreign currency and operational challenges.
“Chemplex and Sable Chemicals, the country’s major fertiliser producers, have already come up with strategies to reduce imports in the next five years.
According to the roadmap, Sable plans to increase annual production capacity to 240 000 tonnes by 2025 from the current installed capacity of 90 000 tonnes.
Chemplex Corporation intends to increase output to 100 000 tonnes per year from 80 000 tonnes.