Fertilizers Dysfunction: Nation Hopes on New Technology – Blended Featured

For the last twelve years in a raw, Mustafa Siraj, 39, a father of three has used fertilizers on his three hectares of farming land in order to increase the production of maize, a crop that he frequently harvests.

The place where Mustafa lives, Gomma Wereda, Jimma Zone in Oromia Region is well known for the production of maize crop and he is one of the well known growers in the area.

Before his father transferred the land use to him, the maximum production was eight to ten quintals of maize per hectare.

“My father did not allow me to use man made fertilizers and I have to do it behind his back because I was convinced for the importance of it when discussing with the people from agriculture office,” says Mustafa.

Later on, supported by the Development Agents (DAs), he used DAP and Urea fertilizers one quintal each for a hectare as recommended.

“The result was amazing,” he says. “I have gained up to 70 quintals from a hectare.”

However, such remarkable result could not continue forever since he frequently uses the same kinds of fertilizers on the same farming land.

In the last farming season Mustafa has harvested 55 quintal of maize from a hectare, a continuing decline for the last five years.

“I have used improved seed, chemicals and the necessary supports for the crop and I do not know why the decline of the quantity of the production?” he wonders.

Tadesse Akalu, a father of five, in Adulala Kebele in East Shoa Zone also shares the worries of Mustafa. The dramatic result he has seen from the two hectares of land ten years ago by using DAP and Urea fertilizers is quite different for a hectare of land farm in the recent years.

“It is declining,” he confirms.

Ethiopian farmers primarily rely on only two fertilizers to supplement the nutrient content in their soil, phosphorus in the form of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and nitrogen in the form of Urea. A standard application of 100kg of DAP and 100kg of Urea has traditionally been recommended across the country for all kinds of soil types.  

“This recommendation fails to take into account the current fertility status of soil, or specific crop needs,” Tefera Solomon, soil fertility case team coordinator at Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) told EBR. “Since only DAP and Urea fertilizers are commercially available, their positive effect of stimulating crop growth also decrease the natural soil fertility and level of essential nutrients not supported by fertilization.”

According to a study conducted by The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) in 2012, fertilizer was first introduced to Ethiopia under the freedom from Hunger program of the FAO in the late 1960s. Despite successful field demonstrations and several deliberate policy attempts to increase use of fertilizer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fertilizer application levels remained very low. At the national level, total imports of fertilizer increased from about 3,500 tons in the early 1970s to 34,000 tons in 1985/86.

With the introduction of the Peasant Agricultural Development Program (PADEP) in 1986, increasing numbers of farmers started using fertilizer and total imports reached about 145,000 tons by the time the central planning regime of the Derg collapsed in 1991. Since 1992, there have been a number of policy shifts that have shaped and re-shaped fertilizer supply in the country.

Thereafter, according to this study, fertilizer use increased to about 200 thousand tons in 1994, to 400 thousand tons in 2005, and 550 thousand tons in 2010.

However, the efficiency of using fertilizer is becoming less important for the farmers like Mustafa who recognize the low production in the recent years.

“Production is becoming low as it was in the past, I think using fertilizer will be only wasting time and money in near future,” says the frustrated Mustafa.   

The study also shows that the fertilizer use in different regions is declining. Relative  to  the  expansion  in  cultivated  area,  in  most  regions  the proportions  of  land  under  fertilizer  use  has  declined  between  2000/01  and  2010/11. For example, in the case of maize in Oromia, almost 383,000 hectare (44 percent of the total area in maize of 871,000 ha) were fertilized in 2000/01. However, in 2010/11, while the total area under maize had almost tripled to 1.11 million ha, only 22.5 percent (or about 243,000 ha) of this area received fertilizer.

An official from MoA attributes the problem to the technology of the fertilizers used currently.

“The Ethiopian soil is losing its nutrients because the farmers are obliged to use only DAP and Urea fertilizers which are common in the country for long time,” Tefera explains. “These two kinds of fertilizers are used for all kind of crops and all kinds of soil,” he added.

DAP has phosphate and it is advised to apply it at planting as basal fertilizer and Urea is a Nitrogenous fertilizer that should be used for top dressing  like when maize plants are keen high.

According to an expert on the field, the soil in most parts of the country need about 16 kinds of nutrients. In addition to that, DAP naturally adds acidity to the soil.

“These fertilizers have to be changed with technologically advanced fertilizers that add nutrients to the soil,” Tefera says.

Following a serious of research on the issue, currently MoA in collaboration with ATA is working on a national fertilizer blending program.

Blended fertilizers are made by physically mixing fertilizer materials to gate a desired grade. It is mixing through simultaneous or sequential application, of any combination of materials to produce a uniform mixture of one or more filler materials or two or more fertilizer materials.

This project is aimed at popularizing new high-yield blended fertilizers and to create the country’s first blended fertilizer production facilities.

There are four blending plants under construction, one in each of the four main agricultural regions: Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and Southern Regions. Each of the plants will be operated by a farmers’ cooperative union, including Enderta in Tigray, Merkeb in Amhara, Becho in Oromia, and Melek in Southern Region. Each factories cost 12 million birr.

These four plants, which will have a cumulative production capacity of nearly 250,000 ton a year, are expected to start producing fertilizers in time for the 2014 planting season.

The plants will make an expanded range of soil nutrients available to farmers, customized to their specific soil types, crops, and agro-ecologies.

Agriculture dominates the Ethiopian economy. It is the major supplier of raw materials to food processing, beverage and textile industries. It accounts for more than 85 percent of the labor force and 90 percent of the export earnings, according to data from ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED). The major share of GDP growth can also be attributed to agriculture.

Ethiopia’s crop yields have been constrained by a very limited set of imported fertilizers. However, by blending fertilizers here in Ethiopia, it is expected that smallholder farmers will not only have access to an expanded range of soil nutrients; they will also be able to request custom blended formulas tailored to their specific soil needs.

According to the data from Ethiopian Agricultural Inputs Supply Enterprise (AISE), in the year 2011, 350,309 ton of Dap and 200,345 ton of Urea were distributed to farmers. For the 2012 cropping season, the enterprise has availed 401,871 ton of Dap and 233,526 ton of Urea.

It is also projected that the new fertilizer blending factories will contribute for the reduction of the amount of high volume of fertilizer imported each year.

The new project will use geo statistical soil fertility mapping of agricultural land in the country to recommend relevant fertilizer applications for each Woreda.

During the 2014 planting season, the effectiveness of these blended fertilizers will be demonstrated at 2,000 farmer training centers and on 30,000 farmers’ plots, according to Tefera.

As the blending plants are being constructed and prepared for production in 2014, a technical committee, comprised of experts from the MoA, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and the regional agricultural research institutes have developed customized fertilizer formulas to be tested on Ethiopia’s soil.

For demonstrating the project on the selected farmers’ plot, 216,000 metric tons of blended fertilizer is already imported with the cost of 172,800 dollars.

“Producing the blended fertilizer will also helps to save the country’s foreign currency and also easily accessible for farmers in their local areas,” he said.

The blending fertilizer will contain the six major components that the soil should be compensated such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Boron, Zinc, Sulpher and Potassium.  These components are available in the country except Phosphorus which is expected to be imported from Tanzania, according to an official from the Ministry.

However, Eyasu Elias, (PhD), president of soil science association, argue that such a move could have been made years ago when farmers have been refusing to use the same kind of fertilizers on their land.

“The farmers have been losing their money and time for many years,” he told EBR.

He also criticizes the previous policy that enables to distribute the same kind of fertilizers from Mekele to Moyale and Gambela to Affar regions which have diverse ecological set up.

“Since agriculture has a major role on the economy of the country, issues raised by the farmers or any other concerned body should have been given due attention,” he recommends, appreciating the current move on the policy cycle.

Ethiopia also envisions building eight fertilizer plants in the Oromia Regional state as per its governing five-year economic plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which ends in 2015. Out of the envisaged fertilizer producing plants planned to be constructed in Oromia, five are for Dap and the rest are for Urea.

Until then, farmers like Mustafa and Tadesse should wait and see what change the coming cropping season will bring to them.

Yetneberk Tadele

EBR Staff Writter.

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