By Farai Mabeza
DEMAND for fertiliser in the country fell to below normal after a prolonged dry spell that saw a significant portion of planted crops being written off, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) has said.
However, supply of fertilisers and other crop chemicals has been low due to foreign currency shortages, FEWSNET said.
“Demand, which was expected to outstrip supply for much of the cropping season, is likely to be significantly below normal due to a significant proportion of crops affected by poor rains up to January,” FEWSNET said in its February report.
For areas where crops survived the dry spell, some poor households will face challenges accessing inputs on the markets given low household incomes and high costs, FEWSNET added.
Farmers in some areas were still to receive crop input assistance in February, especially top-dressing fertilisers. Some crops are expected to experience heavy leaching and nitrogen deficiency due to widespread rains that came in the latter part of the season. These factors are likely to result in below-average yields this season.
The country has had to rely on imports for its fertiliser needs, the last of which were funded through a facility from the African Export and Import Bank. Zimbabwe has just one ammonium nitrate producer, Sable Chemicals, which can only supply a quarter of national requirements.
The country requires an estimated 400 000 tonnes of fertiliser for a successful summer cropping season.
In the last two years, fresh capital investments have been made into additional blending plants, which have increased Zimbabwe’s capacity to manufacture fertilisers to about 1,2 million tonnes, depending on the availability of raw materials.
As part of preparations for this summer cropping season, the central bank has been allocating foreign currency to fertiliser manufacturing firms for the importation of the raw materials.
Farmers have been receiving fertiliser and other inputs through government programmes such as the Presidential Inputs Scheme and Command Agriculture, but the distribution of these inputs has not always been done in time.
More than 1,6 million households benefited from the Presidential Inputs Scheme last season.
Government has said it is in the process of plugging leakages in the distribution of these inputs, following reports that they were abused during the 2016/2017 season.