Malawi faces uncertainty on the availability of fertiliser in the country as figures from private sector players show that the country has 64 981 metric tonnes (MT) comprising 25 399MT Urea and 39 582MT NPK.
Industry players indicate that there is a combined 326 712MT of fertiliser at Mozambique’s Indian Ocean ports of Beira and Nacala, but delivery to Malawi is dependent on the companies sourcing foreign exchange. Beira has 137 562MT and Nacala 189 150MT.
The Fertiliser Association of Malawi said the country uses between 400 000 and 500 000MT annually, as such, any drop in supply will have a bearing on food production.
On the other hand, Ministry of Agriculture is on record as having said it will buy 149164MT for the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
Fertiliser Association executive administrator Mbawaka Phiri said the situation was dire and there is need for goverment to intervene on forex.
She said: “Kindly note that majority of the stock in port and the stock on water is held under Collateral Management Agreement [CMA] and is only released upon receipt of financing.
“If the company is not able to secure financing or a financing tool, the stock is not released and may be diverted to a different supplier in another country within the region. Therefore, the other figures quoted are not guaranteed to end up in Malawi.”
Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chairperson Sameer Suleman wondered why government was coy on the list of AIP beneficiaries.
“We don’t even know if we have the fertiliser in the country because everything is being kept under wraps. We have seen fertiliser contracts being terminated. All this is a sign that things are not moving,” he said.
On the other hand, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources agriculture economist Horace Phiri said the situation will lead to farmers panicking, which essentially leads to private traders increasing the cost of fertiliser.
He said: “It’s unfortunate that we tend to treat these issues with secrecy, because we would have been better knowing whether government has fertiliser or not.
“We have crops that are fertiliser-hungry while others are not. With what is happening and the promises we keep hearing that everything is going to be okay, we may end up with a situation where we only realise very late that the situation is very bad.”
Phiri said much as the forex situation is understandable, it does not warrant keeping people in suspense.
On his part, agriculture extension expert Leonard Chimwaza said the reduction in stocks will be reflected in crop yields during the next cropping season.
He said: “Ultimately, the reduction will lead to high food prices and increased food insecurity in Malawi. Fertiliser importers must be given priority when it comes forex allocation.
“Reduce over-reliance on inorganic fertiliser through development and adoption of least cost technologies/innovations which have the ability to improve the soil structure and texture and fix nitrogen in the soil. There is need to invest in domestic or intra regional fertiliser manufacturing.”
Minister of Agricuture Sam Kawale did not pick calls nor respond to WhatsApp messages while Principal Secretary Dixie Kampani asked for a questionnaire which was sent, but had not responded by press time at 9pm yesterday.
But speaking in Nkhata Bay during the commissioning of Linga Irrigation Scheme last Friday, Minister of Transport and Public Works Jacob Hara, who represented Kawale, said all was set.
“We have it in the country, and we would have wanted even to start distributing. But we are afraid that if we do that now, some people will end up sellling the inputs,” he said.
In early August, Kawale said the ministry had engaged 13 companies to supply 149 164MT of fertiliser for 2023-24 AIP to ensure that farmers access the inputs before the first rains.
He said the companies already had about 80 000MT of fertiliser in the country which is about 53 percent of the quantities needed for both NPK and Urea under AIP.