Increased volume of Zimbabwe farming activities over-stretches fertliser demand

HARARE – The shortage of ammonium nitrate fertiliser is dampening a promising season that has so far been characterised by good rains, and indications are major crops such as tobacco that earn the country millions of dollars in foreign currency might suffer if no urgent measures are taken, Business Weekly can report.  

Currently, ammonium nitrate is not readily available for State-assisted farming programmes and on the open market at the time it is needed the most.  

Already, there are growing concerns among farmers who fear that if the situation does not improve by month-end, this would compromise crops, particularly maize and tobacco.  

An investigation by this publication has revealed that the current shortage has resulted from failure by the Treasury to provide funding to Sable Chemicals, which was contracted by the Government to supply the critical nutrient.  

FSG, a private company also contracted to supply fertiliser to State funded programmes, has failed to deliver the commodity on time citing Covid-19-induced logistical challenges and port congestion following the closure of Beira port due to a tropical storm early this month.  

Both Sable Chemicals and FSG have five-year contracts with the Government. Sable was awarded the contract on the basis of utilising local capacity and the deal entailed that the Treasury would provide working capital to the country’s sole producer of the ammonium nitrate.  

Highly placed sources told Business Weekly that the Sable contract was “never implemented”.  

“It is still very unclear why the Treasury did not provide the required funds. The contract given to Sable was in line with the Government’s import substitution thrust but this has not performed as expected,” said one source familiar with the development.  

Calls seeking a comment from Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, were not answered. 

Last week, a high level meeting, which sought “answers” on why local production is “so depressed when there was a plan boost domestic output” was held. 

“It emerged that no funding had been availed to Sable Chemicals even though the contract was clear that the Government should support the company with working capital,” a source who was part of the meeting said. 

“Officials at the Ministry of Finance were then tasked to urgently look into the matter. But what is worrying is that even if the Treasury is to avail the funds to Sable, it will be too late especially for the early crop which now need AN.” 

Sable chief executive Mr Bothwell Nyajeka referred questions to acting chairman of Zimbabwe Fertiliser Association James Chigwende, who could not be reached at the time of going to press. 

Early this week, FSG said it was expecting to start taking delivery of 45 000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate this week. 

“We have four vessels in Beira port with 45 000 tonnes to discharge; these vessels have been delayed due to high port congestion and the recent closure of the port due to the cyclone,” FSG managing director Steve Morland has said.  

On Tuesday, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka said up to 55 000 tonnes of top dressing fertiliser have been imported, while funds have been set aside to ensure accelerated imports of fertiliser to avert local shortages.  

Farmers fear that if the situation does not improve, this would compromise the early crop, particularly maize that now seriously needs the fertiliser in the face of incessant rains being received in most parts of the country. 

There are fears retailers could take advantage of the shortage to increase prices. 

Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union president Abdul Nyathi said the early maize crop was in danger if no top dressing fertiliser is applied by end of this month given the current excessive rains. 

“If we get it by end of this month, then we will be still safe, but if it does not happen, we will start counting losses,” he said. 

Last year, the Government approved a five-year roadmap aimed at reducing fertiliser imports over the next five years through capacitating local manufacturers. 

The country, whose economy is largely agro-based, has been importing significant quantities of fertiliser as local producers struggled to meet demand largely due to foreign currency shortages. 

Over the past seven years, Zimbabwe spent nearly US$662 million on fertiliser imports. 

Had the local industry been adequately supported, the country would have spent US$400 million or US$262 million less. 

According to the roadmap, Sable and Chemplex will ramp up annual production to 240 000 tonnes and 100 000 tonnes respectively. 

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