As the new planting season commences across the country, farmers are raising concern over the dual challenges of access to fertilizer and quality seedlings.
Feelers across the states indicate that the current rising cost of food crops, linked to inflation, could be worsened as the price of fertilizers rises steeply, with the attendant consequences, in terms of food availability and affordability.
The same challenge goes for seedlings, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left a big gap in the process of procuring seedlings by farmers. The Guardian gathered from farmers that acute scarcity of cassava stem has become a source of concern to cassava farmers in some states. The same goes for seeds of other commodities.
Recently, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, raised concern over the high cost of fertilizer, with a stern warning that if the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) fails to release the input instantly at a subsidised rate of N5, 500, prices of foodstuff might further go higher than what is currently being experienced across the states.
He revealed that without government support, farmers may be left with no option but to transfer the cost of the input to the end consumer, noting that as at last year, fertilizer was released to farmers at the rate of N5, 000, but currently, NPK fertilizer has risen to between N6, 700 to N8, 000, while Urea sells for about N8, 800 to N13, 000.
“While we await what happens this year, we are scared that the fertilizer will not be readily available and affordable as in the last four years, due to delay in releasing the new price and the commodity itself.
“According to feelers from state chairmen, Nigeria is already experiencing skyrocketing prices of food crops, serious food inflation and this coupled with the skyrocketing prices of fertilizers, the situation of food availability and affordability will exacerbate,” he said.
The Deputy National President, Agro Dealers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Adekunle Lawal, who substantiated the claim said a 50kg bag of NPK 15:15:15 of NPK Golden Fertilizer (which is authentic), currently sells for N10, 500, the 20:10:10 sells for N10, 300, while other blending plants sell at the rate of N8, 500.
According to him, Urea, which is solely produced by Indorama in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, sells for N8, 900. He said as, at last year, the price was about N6, 500, while the NPK fertilizer was selling for about N5, 000 to N6, 000, noting that the price was within that range because the PFI released the input as and when due.
He, however, maintained that the prices of the inputs are not static as it is affected by forces of demand and supply, as well as the distance of rural farmers, warning that the price can go as high as N17, 500, “this is the reason we always advice farmers to buy their inputs very early.”
Though the accusing finger is currently pointed at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) for the barriers, as the farmers and stakeholders are waiting for their intervention, the Director, Farm Input Supply in FMARD, Engr. Tunde Bello said that the Federal Government is not in the business of production and distribution of fertilizer to farmers, rather it is the PFI that is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring farmers access fertilizer at subsidised rate.
The Director said the Federal Government has kicked off the Agriculture for Food and Jobs Plan, to capture the biometrics of five million vulnerable farmers and their farms for easy targeting, with the fertilizer subsidy support.
Responding to when the PFI plans to roll out the farm inputs for the 2021 wet season, the Executive Secretary of the Fertilizer Producer and Supplier Association of Nigeria, Mr. Gideon Negedu, said the PFI has been restructured to allow market forces to determine the prices of fertilizer, saying there is no plan to announce any uniform price for the input.
He said the initiative flagged off in 2017 was designed for three years, saying the government extended it to 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to cushion the effect on farmers.
Negedu explained that Federal Government support to blenders in the last four years to produce fertilizer at a subsidised rate of N5, 000 was crafted to grow the industry such that after withdrawal of government support market forces would determine the prices of inputs.
He said the blending plants has increased from two functioning plants in 2017 to about 50 blending plants, saying it has become very unsustainable for the Federal Government to provide raw materials for all the blending plants at a discounted rate, which was the reason for the withdrawal so as to allow blender get the raw material and then produce and sell at a price favorable to them.
The Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) in partnership with the office of the National Security Adviser were put in charge of importing the raw materials including MOP, DAP, and Ammonia for the private sector blenders under the auspices of FEPSAN.
“The private sector during the period of receiving government support was supposed to grow their balance sheet such that they would get bank guarantee to buy the raw materials on loan, but as it is most of them (blending plants) are yet to do that.”
For the 2021 wet season farming, he said the PFI had already imported the raw materials, adding that some blenders who have their banks guarantee are already off taking the raw materials and “have started production as we speak.”
However, a source at the Agriculture for the Food and Job Plan revealed that the Federal Government has so far captured five million smallholder farmers on their database.
She said for this year’s farming season, the smallholder farmers would be provided with fertilizer and seeds at a discounted rate, through a credit facility programme. The source said farmers are expected to repay the loan either by cash or through harvested crops.
She, however, said they are waiting for the PFI to provide them with fertilizers at a subsidised rate to sell to the farmers.