Planting season: Absence of fertilizer in markets worry farmers

By Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos) and Joke Falaju (Abuja) |   16 February 2020   |   4:25 am  


• ‘Fertilizer Mafia’ Responsible For Scarcity — Okonti
• Problem Stems From Govt’s Import Policy — Source

Farmers may be in for very tough times ahead 2020-planting season. The country does not have enough fertilizer to go round.The development pose serious challenges to farmers and heightens fears of low harvest, as investigations revealed that, currently no company is producing fertilizer in the country.
 
Though several factors have been attributed to this unpleasant situation, the reality, according to sources is that there is no solution in sight, just as farmers demand urgent action.One of the factors attributed to this development, according to checks is the country’s total reliance on importation of Potash and Phosphate, considered as important raw materials for producing fertilizer.

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While Potash is sourced from Russia, Phosphate is imported from Morocco. The cost of importing the raw materials pushes the price up and leading to scarcity.

Another factor according to National President of the Inorganic Fertilizer Manufacturers and Dealers Association, Mr. Felix Okonti is the activities of ‘Fertilizer mafia who have kept destroying the economic workability of the whole sector.’

While debunking claims that the country does not have enough fertilizer, he accused the Federal Government of colluding with Indian multi-nationals to pull the country down.“How do you run a country like a mafia organisation, wherein selected companies are given preference, which is contrary to the Senate 2017 resolution that prohibited discriminatory waiver for companies; which says all players should be given a level playing ground. If they want to give waiver or concession, it should be industry-wise and all participants must have equal opportunities.

“The Indians know how to compromise government officials and they help them to hemorrhage the economy, the Fertilizer mafia keeps disrupting the whole sector. Most of the seven companies they planned to grant waiver are Indians, going from Olam, Stallion, Walcotts and two companies from Kano.

“We have enough fertilizer plants to produce, and we have all the raw materials to produce, for instance the limestone are in Okpella, Edo, Kogi and Sokoto States and the Rock phosphate in Sokoto.

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The Guardian learned that the scarcity was largely due to the Federal Government’s refusal to grant waivers to importers of about 1.5million metric tonnes of fertilizer to bridge the demand and supply gap.

Contrary to reports that the minister granted waivers to some fertilizer companies, a source disclosed that the minister did not grant any waivers because “he does not have the power to do so.”He said “What happened, rather was that the minister wrote the President to grant waiver to about seven fertilizer companies to import 1.5million mt of Wet fertilizer to bridge the demand gap, unfortunately the request was turned down.”

The source dismissed the fact that the minister was queried for granting waivers, but he was rather invited by the President’s Chief of Staff Abbah Kyari to explain why he made the request for some selected fertilizer companies. The Minister was said to have argued that the spate of insurgency in the Northeast had made it difficult for farmers to have access to the farm input, claiming that the terrorist groups have been hijacking some of the materials used for fertilizer production to manufacture explosives.

The source added: “As I speak I can confirm that there is no fertilizer in the country, and raining season is here, how will the farmers cope, the insurgency in the Northeast has made it difficult for farmers in that region to have access to the farm input.”His claim was same as that of the Nigerian Security Intelligence Agency (NSIA) in 2018, which mandated every individual, company and transporters of Urea, (a Fertilizer component) to be identified and certified from the point of origin to the final destination, noting that transporting of urea across the country requires military escort. The NSIA said the step was necessary because urea can be used to produce urea nitrate; a high explosive material used in IEDs (improvised explosive devices) by simply adding nitric acid.

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A reliable source from a multinational fertilizer company based in Lagos, told The Guardian that the scarcity is not because the country imports Potash and Phosphate, it is because of government’s policy.

“Technically, they restrict the importation to encourage local production and in encouraging local production, they need three major elements-Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. Nitrogen is in abundance in Nigeria; we don’t have phosphate and potash.

But Okonti, who decried Federal Government’s ‘pranks’ on the fertiliser issue, said local plants have the capacity to blend. “The only thing is to get our acts together and work for Nigeria in unison, Nigeria will save a lot of foreign exchange, create employment and get the product on time to farmers

“My company for instance, blends soil specific and crop specific fertilizers for our client and what we do here Holland or India farmers will not be able to do that and we sell at the production cost of N6, 500.

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“At the inception of the Presidential initiative on Fertilizer, our association expressed reservations on how it was organised and we warned that it would lead to monopoly and inefficiency. We also warned that there would be difficulties in achieving the objectives, and no doubt those observations are coming true as you can see farmers are rejecting it. We made those reservations known to the Senate, but unfortunately I was labeled to be unpatriotic.

“We are totally against importation of NPK 15:15:15 Fertilizer, it’s a disservice to the country, it is a dubious way of making quick money, Nigeria has the capacity to produce, then why must we import it? We are also against the discriminatory selection of companies to import it. Then what happens to other companies who may have to lay off workers because of such moves, why must it be majorly Indian companies and why are we against our own people, why are we sabotaging current administration’s plan to ensure Nigeria gains ground in production, manufacturing and employment, it means importing unemployment and exporting employment to other countries, those are the major reasons we are against the move.”

Continuing, he said under the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, “they claimed to have built capacity of the fertilizer plants from the initial four plants to 27, when in the real sense the 27 fertilizer plants belong to one or two persons. Tac Agro, for instance, has bifurcated into more than eight companies. I don’t see that as increasing capacity when they are creating monopoly, they want to build another Dangote cement or Bua in the fertilizer sector for a country of more than 201 million people.

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“What we are saying is that, let there be level playing ground and healthy competition so that the economy can thrive and not through the patronage, that is how other countries grew their economy. The raw materials to produce fertilizer are abundant in the country, for instance gas to produce Ammonia for Urea production is huge in the South South and the Southeast. There are about two plants producing Ammonia and urea, then Phosphate rock is in huge deposit in more than 14 Local Government Areas in Sokoto and up to Niger Republic.

“The country once set up a super phosphate plant in Kaduna, that plant was supposed to be located in Sokoto but for easy reach. What is being imported from Morocco is still the same phosphate, but we have a huge deposit not being beneficiated 

“As an individual, I saw the need and applied to Bank of Industry (BoI) they gave me N1.6m to install Processing Plant to produce the DAP, MOP, and MAP being imported from Morocco, they gave me the offer and I was told to pay one per cent of the loan, which is about N16.3million in 2014. They required me to get commercial bank guarantee to access the money, the commercial banks wanted me to bring 130 per cent of the money, which is about N2.23b and they want property in Victoria Island. “N2b would have saved 40 per cent of what is being imported from Morocco and Nigeria is spending between N40-50b to import from Morocco, and if the plant has been established it would have run for more than 30 years,” he said.

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