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Farmers in a fix over fertiliser scarcity

by April 17, 2016 General

As the rainy season heralds the planting period, farmers in Nigeria are in a bind on how they will access fertiliser, which is essential for crop growth and optimum productivity.
Farmers the Daily Trust on Sunday spoke with last week said the delay in President Muhammad Buhari’s assent to the 2016 budget, military’s restriction on movement of urea fertilizer for security reasons arising from the Boko Haram insurgency, and the huge Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme debts left by the previous administration are creating barriers for farmers to access fertiliser this year.

Last season, farmers suffered from subsidised inputs support because of the huge debts (about N76 billion) owed agro dealers who supplied the farm inputs during the 2014/2015 farming season.
The 2016 season is already characterised by a lot of hurdles around the fertiliser sub-sector, raising concerns over farmers’ access to the input for this year’s rain-fed farming season.
 Last month, in Lokoja,Kogi State, security forces impounded dozens of trucks conveying fertiliser meant for farmers in the North because, according to them, the product was one of the ingredients insurgents use in making explosives.
But Notore Chemical Company, maker of urea fertilizer, regarded the restriction as unnecessary as it claimed it has completed the data of every agro dealer and put in place a system that checks every movement of its products from the production plant to destination.
Alhaji Saidu Garba is the Kaduna State chapter chairman of the Agro Dealers Association. Garba told Daily Trust on Sunday that the restriction had affected the supply of urea fertiliser in the market.
 As he said, the price of urea has gone up significantly to above N7,000 per bag, from the N5,200 it was sold last year. Also worrisome was his assertion that some dealers who still have some of the product are now adulterating it because the demand is high while supply is so short.
Alhaji Salau noted that smallholder farmers in the country might find it extremely difficult to access fertilizer this season. He said even agro dealers, who still have some, cannot move the product to the market because the government has not come out with any policy on it.
“An increase in the price of fertiliser will lead to increase in the prices of food stuff because many farmers rely on fertiliser for their food production,” he said.
Jerry Ndakabo, Group Manager, Salisu& Sons Nig. Ltd, Kaduna, a fertilizer dealer, told our correspondent that getting fertiliser had become a big issue as farmers were asking for it everywhere.
Ndakabo stressed that until something is done urgently to deal with the situation, farmers should prepare for low harvest this year.
Our correspondent gathered from a number of agro dealers across the northern part of the country that the situation was the same as many agro dealers were afraid to commit their resources to the fertiliser business. They said government had not come up with a definite policy on the issue yet.
But the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said plans are on to re-engage the agro dealers, who they owe billions of naira, and pay them on pro rata basis, that is,giving higher proportion of supply to those they owe higher amounts.
 The Special Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. OlukayodeOyeleye, told our correspondent that the ministry was finetuning its arrangement to get fertiliser to the farmers, adding that some states might, however, not be able to subsidise the input for their farmers.
Oyeleye did not state when the ministry will commence the distribution, even as the farming season has begun across the country, raising fear that farmers might not get the product at all.
A director in the ministry, who wouldn’t want his name mentioned, told our reporter that there was an ongoing review of the GES programme, with some stakeholders urging government to get out completely from the fertiliser issue and allow the private sector to drive the system.
On the restriction of movement of urea fertiliser across the country, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and the Office of the National Security Adviser are, Oyeleye said, working on a strategy for strict monitoring of fertiliser distribution to ensure that it does not end up in the wrong hands.
Dispelling the rumour that government was rethinking the sustainability of the GES, he said the review was not for the government to abandon support to the farmers but to review some aspects of the programme, assuring that “GES will continue.” 
Engineer Ohaire B. Jatto, Director, Federal Department of Farm Input Supply, disclosed that the ministry was still waiting for the budget to go ahead with the GES programme.
Jatto said government has made progress to ensure that farmers in the country were not left alone this year but were supported, despite lean resources.
 According to the engineer, the ministry is exercising care not to give the go-ahead to agro-dealers because of the debts government has not paid. “We are working on the issue,” he said.
Alhaji Shuaibu Bello, Chairman of the Nigeria Agro Dealers Association, confirmed to Daily Trust on Sunday that the arrangement with the ministry to supply the input to farmers. He said government has worked out a plan on the payment of the huge debts inherited from the last administration.
Some farmers who spoke with this reporter said hard times await them if government did not remove the restriction or provide farm input support for them.
When contacted, the National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Architect Kabir Ibrahim, said he would not be able to make a definite statement until he has received reports on the situation from his members.
 In Kano, checks revealed that since the suspension of fertilizer distribution under GES, farmers in the state have been facing challenges in accessing the valuable commodity. It was reported that in the 2015 wet season, the state government had to cancel its earlier plan to distribute fertilizer to farmers for the 2015 cropping season through mobile phone alerts due to lateness in supply.
The government of that time explained in a statement that it took the decision in view of the fact that the rainy season had already commenced. Farmers said the state government’s admission that it was late in distributing fertiliser to farmers confirmed the fact it was responsible for farmers’ perennial challenge of having fertilizer when required.
Malam Muhammad Usman Yako, a farmer in Kiru local government of the state, who claimed to have been farming for over 19 years, said he hasn’t seen a single farmer in his local government who has collected the said subsidized fertilizer when he required it.
Yako added that last year, the subsidized fertilizer was only made available to farmers after the wet season had long gone. “We are prepared to go to the market and buy it at N5,900 than to wait for the subsidized one which usually comes late when you don’t need it. This was what happened last year and we wouldn’t want to repeat the same mistake this year,”the farmer said.
Other farmers spoken with corroborated Yako’s declaration that farmers can’t continue to suffer without getting the supply, which made them resolve to start buying directly from the market as they have lost faith in the distribution strategies adopted by the state government.
When contacted, the chairman of the constituted caretaker committee of AFAN, Kano chapter, Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, stated that farmers should not panic as “there is still time”,adding that the association has held meetings with all members on the issue of fertilizer distribution during this year’s wet season.
 According to him, though the state government has not contacted the association yet on its provision this year, it(the association) is considering adopting a measure used by the Wheat Farmers Association by signing a memorandum of association with reputable fertilizer agents.
Similarly, the former chairperson of the state’s Women Famers Association, Hajiya Sidiya Fatima Shareef, stated that the months of April to June should be the period farmers ought to be getting theirfertilizer supply.
Hajiya Shareef argued that it is ineffective using politicians to distribute fertilizer, as has been the case, instead of directly involving farmers associations for effective and prompt access of the product.
Attempts to reach the Kano State Commissioner for Agriculture, Nasiru Gawuna, proved abortive. An aide of his said the Commissioner had travelled abroad for an official assignment.
Alhaji Umar Dan-Abashe is one of the rice farmers registered under the Kebbi State rice production programme. Dan-Abashe has a rice farm that stretches over 100 metres at Duku in the Birnin Kebbi local government area. While taking our correspondent round the farm,the rice farmer said during this year’s dry season farming, he bought nine and half bags of fertilizers because he couldn’t obtain it from government. What he bought, he said, couldn’t meet his requirement still. 
He said, “I was one of the farmers that the state government screened and registered for its rice programme. I was only given two pumping machines and three bottles of chemicals to spray on the farm. Government said it would give us fertilizer for the wet season farming but it is now over two months and we are yet to get the three bags of fertilizers they promised us.  “My rice farm is over 100 metres in size. I have five wells on it to take care of the water needs of the rice but the two pumping machines they gave me are not enough to circulate water round the farm.  It would have been better if government can increase the number of pumping machines in the farm and as well help me with enough fertilizer to boost my rice production during this year’s wet season farming.”
 Another farmer, Ubale Sule remarked, “In all my farming years, this is the first year I will be involved in dry season rice farming based on the assistance that government promised it would give to us in terms of farm inputs like fertilizer, pumping machines, chemicals and money. When I harvest the rice on my farm, I will start preparing the farm again for the wet season and I will need enough fertilizer to do that. Unfortunately, we are yet to get fertilizer from government and not many of us can afford it.
 “That is why we are calling on government to release the fertilizers it promised to give to us to boost our rice and wheat farming. Rice farming is a continuous process and we will always need fertilizer to boost our output. Its price has increased; a bag of urea fertilizer is now N5,800 and NPK is N5,600. You can see that except government helps us we cannot afford the required bags of fertilizers that we need on our farms.”
 The Chairman of the Rice Farmers Association in Kebbi State, Alhaji Muhammed Sahadi, told our correspondentthat the state government has made arrangements for the procurement of sufficient fertilizers for farmers under its agricultural programme in the state. “We don’t have a fertilizer issue in Kebbi because it was well captured in the state agricultural programme with the federal government,” he said.
In Plateau State, farmers foresee a situation of food shortage over the impending fertilizer crisis.
  “We fear there might be severe food shortage because of this development,” Adama Kanke, a mixed crop farmer in the Kanke local goverment area told Daily Trust on Sunday on phone. “If by now, we still can’t say when we should be expecting fertilizer for this cropping season, that spells doom for harvest.”
Kanke said last year’s harvest was poor because of the late arrival of fertilizer, a situation she said affected food security. Now, with the prevailing scarcity of fertilizer in government stores at the beginning of yet another season, the worst might just be around the corner, she feared.
Our correspondent sought the comment of the AFAN in Plateau State, and the same feeling of uncertainty for the country’s food security came from the chairperson, Mrs. Ferah Chuwang, who said there was, indeed, anxiety among farmers.
She said as a body, AFAN’s worries go beyond the current fertilizer crisis. She noted the country cannot afford to talk of food security now.  Every year, she fumed, there are always  challenges of fertilizer supply and distribution “as though the agricultural sector matters nothing to the country’s economy.”
Mrs. Chuwang disclosed that the body is making arrangements to contact the Plateau State Ministry of Agriculture for alternative means of getting the commodity, adding “we can’t just sit back and watch.”
Also, farmers in the state, where vegetable production is a major occupation, are afraid the ban on urea might affect them badly as, they pointed out, this particular chemical helps vegetable leaves to grow more than any other fertilizer does.
The AFAN chairperson corroborated this when she said: “It will be very unfortunate if the federal government bans urea. It means vegetable farmers will suffer low yield. Urea promotes leaves’ growth.”
Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that the state Ministry of Agriculture last week put up an advertorial for interested contractors to bid for the supply of assorted fertilizers.
Spokesman to Governor Simon Lalong, Emmanuel Nanle, explained to our correspondent that the government has considered an alternative means of supplying fertilizer by deciding on the supply project, which will be contracted out through an advertorial.
“You know that the development of the agricultural sector is one of the priorities of my boss, who came on a rescue mission. Farmers are going to be rescued from the usual hustles they encountered in the past over fertilisers,” Lalong said. “This crisis was tabled at last week’s State Executive Council (SEC) meeting, and the Council approved of the ministry to put up that advertisement, so that Plateau can make its alternative arrangements to supply fertilizer,” he added.
He said the state has also sought partnership with Olam Nigeria Limited, a Singapore-based investor in agriculture, which has farms across Africa, and produces agricultural inputs including fertilizer.
“The partnership we are seeking will help the state in various ways, including establishing farms in Plateau, where jobs would be created for our people, bringing their technical expertise to impact on our farming system here,and as well in fertilizer availability,” he said.