By Kennedy Otieno Ochieng
Africa, the infamous house for subsistence and middle size farming, is experiencing a challenge that modern solutions seem to ignore. The lack of affordable fertilizer for small and middle size farmers denies them economic gains from their farms especially after spending on chemical fertilizers. The problem is compounded by lack of commitment from governments which do not compel fertilizer manufacturers to come up with affordable solutions for farmers.
Some governments offer fertilizer subsidies to small scale farmers but this assistance is not reliable, and only less than 20% of needy farmers access such aid yearly. The influence that large farms have over crop markets has paved the way for expensive chemical fertilizers to dominate the markets and suppressed the efforts of small and middle size farmers who opt to cultivate without applying fertilizers on their farms. At the same time, the problem of garbage neutralization in urban cities is growing more complex because land is continuously acquired to expand landfills.
The Increasing Demand for Affordable Fertilizer across Africa
Case 1; South Africa
Farmers in South Africa are classified into subsistence and commercial farmers; the latter being white farmers mostly. According to a 2016 Land Bank report, an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 million households practice subsistence farming, but surprisingly the minority 40,000 commercial farmers supply the country’s food and dictate market prices (Greyling et al., 2015). About quarter of South Africa’s population go without food every day because nutritious food is unaffordable. The dominant commercial farmers use genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers, harsh pesticides, and 63% of the country’surface water to produce expensive food (WWF-SA document). Due to this phenomenon, small scale farmers have become powerless and lost business opportunities because large enterprises do not trust their capacity to deliver (Van Der Heijden, 2010).
South Africa is endowed with rich loam soil that does not necessarily require chemical fertilizers to give quality yields. Even though few lucky small scale farmers get fertilizers from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, activists have raised concerns that chemical fertilizers kill important microorganisms that enrich the soil. South Africa is a country with 53.53% unemployment rate (Statista 2017), but still, it fails to empower its small scale farmers who are mainly youths trying to meet their food needs and have employment. Earlier efforts to offer small scale farmers free hybrid seeds and abandon traditional farming for mechanical farming through the MFPP (Massive Food Production Programme) failed before and farmers went back to conventional agriculture (Fischer & Hadju, 2015).
Case 2; Kenya
Kenya is among countable African countries where the government and nonprofit organizations strongly recognize small scale farming. Just like Nigeria, Kenyan small scale farmers leverage on modern digitization technologies for procurement of inputs, value chain collaboration, and, most importantly, the sale of harvests. With an estimated population of 48 million people, agriculture is the most significant GDP contributor in the country as more than 70% of the rural population depend on it directly (FAO). Small scale farmers make up 800,000 of the people. In 2013, Kenya was the biggest user of fertilizer per hectare in Africa, yet the food output did not reflect this success mainly because small scale farmers could not afford quality fertilizers (Standard Digital, 2013).
In a 2018 news conference, the Agriculture secretary mentioned that Kenya was not able to manufacture fertilizer because there were no raw materials. The country invited Toyota Tshusho Corporation to step in and blend imported fertilizer ingredients with the intention of meeting the ever-growing demand. Presently, the Kenyan government gives subsidies to 30% of its farmers only while importers also get handsome relief to import fertilizers (Atieno, 2017).
Case 3; NigeriaA common problem for Nigerian farmers is unavailability and late access to affordable fertilizers. While unavailability is the primary concern, access to fertilizers is also hampered by poor road infrastructure as well as strict government restrictions that block usage of processed nitrogen fertilizers due to terror threats in certain parts of the country (Otitoju & Ochimana, 2016). Sometimes, subsidized fertilizer from government reach farmers when the wet rice planting season is over, and most farmers prefer to do without fertilizers or buy their own instead of relying on the subsidized units.
The government is currently considering making a memorandum pact with fertilizer agents who can find fertilizers and supply to these menial farmers in time (Grow Africa, n.d). Nigeria has the largest cassava production in the world and other crops that boost the country’s economy include rice, palm oil, cocoa, and cotton (FAO, 2019). The imminent food shortage in Nigeria could soon worsen because small scale farmers, who produce more than 90% of the food being consumed, are neither sufficiently supported with quality fertilizer inputs nor by favorable policing (Mgbenka et al, 2015). Nigeria has the largest population of 198,938,797 (World Population Review, 2019) and the fastest population growth rate in Africa.
The Menace of Organic Waste in African Urban Cities
Garbage collection and disposal is a significant problem for all urban African cities probably because they utilize waste management models from developed countries. Also, there are no sufficient facilities put in place to degenerate tones of wastes released onto landfills every day. Recycling companies play their part and use plastic or metallic scraps, but organic material remains unutilized and cause health hazards to people across these cities. Local authorities do not take this menace as a significant concern because the elements are expected to disintegrate over the years. Landfills or dump sites in cities are shifted from one area to another as soon as they get filled and this happens, mainly, because authorities cannot pay private companies to neutralize the waste.
Lagos city of Nigeria releases 13,000 tonnes of waste every day out of which 50% is organic material mostly from 30 food markets (Olajide, 2017). Kenyan cities generate more than 6,000 tones of waste per day, and municipal authorities admit they cannot effeciently keep up with disposing of such waste while efforts to use private firms have also failed (Mwololo, 2016). In Ghana, a report shows that 67% of dumped waste is organic material from which 79% is food waste (Agyepong, 2018). South Africa produces 53,425tonnes of waste per day (BusinessTech, 2016).
Investors as part of the Solution
The demand for organic fertilizer is definite because most small farmers in African countries confess they shop for cheaper non-chemical alternatives or do without fertilizers at all. Owing to the soil degenerative properties of chemical fertilizers, some countries control the supply and use of such fertilizers. There are unlimited opportunities for investors in the fertilizer industry not only in terms of market demand but rewarding government partnerships as well. The ultimate investors’ goal should be to set up production line/lines and use the organic raw materials sent to landfills or garbage sites across urban cities to manufacture affordable organic fertilizers. Besides garbage, other ready sources of raw materials include industrial waste, throw-away food, sewage sludge, animal manure, and crop stalks among others. Municipals pay private firms to take the public waste away so investors in projects like this will not only access raw materials easily but be paid to do so.
Sneak-peak into Commercial Production
A typical 10,000 to 50,000 tonnes/year commercial production line involves the following equipment and processes (Derived from Agriculture Nigeria)Hydraulic Compost Turner (raw materials fermentation) → Pan Feeder (smooth feeding) → High Moisture FertilizerCrusher (fermented materials crushing) → Disc Granulator (materials granulating) → Rotary Drum Dryer (fertilizer drying) → Rotary Drum Cooler (fertilizer cooling) → Drum Sifting Machine (fertilizer screening) → Organic FertilizerCoating Machine (finished products coating) → Automatic Packing Machine (fertilizer packaging) → Vertical Crusher (substandard products crushing for re-granulating) → Belt Conveyor (raw materials and finished products transporting)
Nepal: A Success Case
Small and medium companies have cropped up in Nepal to meet the persistent demand for organic fertilizers by subsistence farmers. They produce 15,000 Mt/year of organic fertilizer and are supported by government subsidy schemes such as; Organic Grant Procedure of 2015, Organic Fertilizer Regulation Procedure of 2011, and Organic Fertilizer Grant Guideline of 2011 (Henderson et al., 2016). Such productions are also incentivised by national bodies like the National Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Agriculture Input Corporation Limited (AICL), Soil Management Directorate (SMD), District Agriculture Development Offices (DADO), and NGOs. As a result, ninety-nine percent of organic fertilizers used in Nepal comes from local companies and are distributed through cooperatives to domestic farmers while only one percent is imported (Henderson et al. 2016). The presence of locally manufactured affordable organic fertilizers has given farmers confidence in crop production because they can readily purchase from shops instead of relying solely on expensive chemical fertilizers which are not even produced in the country. Evidently, it is certain stakeholders of the organic fertilizer industry in Nepal are enjoying significant returns and will continue to do so for decades to come.