As African farmers struggle to access fertilizers in 2022 due to the commodity price crisis, USAID is mobilizing AGRA and AFAP to support them

The price at which farmers in Ghana purchase fertilizer has doubled compared to the prices they bought them during the 2021 farming season due to a global shortage of the commodity. The country’s agricultural sector is currently suffering from a deficit of 350,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer due to Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. Ghana imports to meet almost all of its fertilizer needs, and the war is making it impossible for the commodity to come in from Russia and Ukraine, resulting in shortages, with the attendant hike in prices. 

Zakaria Abdulai, a 40-year-old farmer, and secretary to the local farmers cooperative union at Nangbagu in the Sagnerigu Municipality of the Northern Region of Ghana, says farmers have cut down on the size of land they are farming this season because of difficulty in getting access to fertilizer. “The fertilizer situation has really affected our farming. Not only me. But the farmers across the country. Last year, we bought fertilizer for 200 Cedis per bag. But this year, it has jumped to 400 Cedis per bag,” he said. 

“I used to farm 10 acres. But because of the high fertilizer cost, I farmed 4 acres (this season). But even the 4, I have still not yet applied fertilizer on the farm because of the prices. And this will affect my income and (my ability) to get food to feed my family, and not to talk of sending them to school,” he added. 

Abdulai was speaking when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield, visited the community to get a firsthand understanding of how the commodity price crisis, exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, is impacting farmers’ access to fertilizer.

Ambassador Greenfield announced fresh support to help deal with the problem and urged other donors to support too. “We have just provided U.S. $2.5 million to support production in this region… The U.S. $2.5 million will support just those farmers dealing with the fertilizer (crisis)… And while the U.S. is the largest funder, we need others to step up to the plate to provide funding so we can deal with this crisis,” she said. 

Ambassador Greenfield said Ghana has the capacity to produce fertilizers locally and urged the country to take advantage of local resources to do so. “The resources on this continent are here, and we have to take advantage of the resources, so there is not that dependency on fertilizer and grain coming from as far away as Ukraine and Russia,” she said. 

The farmers showcased to Ambassador Greenfield a demonstration field set up by the partners with support from USAID. In this field, the farmers are getting practical hands-on experience in good agronomic practices, including how to use fertilizers efficiently. Zakaria says farmers have learned practices that have helped them double their farm yields, thereby earning more money to take care of their families. “This is a one-acre farm we are standing in. With this, I can get 30 bags of maize. But when we farm the normal way we used to farm, I may not be able to get even 10 bags. Because we use improved seeds and apply the right amount of fertilizer,” he explained. 

AGRA Ghana Country Manager, Juliette Lampoh-Agroh, said the demonstration fields are helping farmers deal with food insecurity challenges. “If they are going to cultivate even one (1) acre, they need to get optimal yield from the farm fields. And that is the essence of the demonstration field we have here. So, we have optimal use of inputs to get adequate yields, such that hopefully, we can avert the looming food crisis that is coming upon us. This is one of more than 17 demonstration farms that we have in the northern sector. And we look to expand the support we have for farmers through partners and the support of USAID,” she said.  

Lampoh-Agroh predicts the new U.S. $2.5 million investment by USAID will make a huge difference. “AGRA will be working with African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and YARA to ensure scarce fertilizer reach at least 100,000 smallholder farmers. AGRA’s role is to ensure we have the systems on the ground so the fertilizer can reach the required smallholder farmers. We will also ensure they are using the right seeds and using the right agronomic practices,” she said. 

Nana-Aisha Mohammed, Ghana Country Manager of the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) noted private sector participation is key in resolving the fertilizer crisis. “At AFAP, our main role is to work with the private sector to intervene. At the beginning of the crisis, we started engaging with the private sector to introduce new alternative fertilizers… We are also looking at how farmers can more efficiently use fertilizers by promoting new varieties of inputs and seeds that can generally require less fertilizer usage,” Mohammed said. 

The partners say they are ready to do more to support the smallholder farmers once they get adequate funding.