“The glory and qualification of Uganda being endowed with good weather and fertile soils with wonderful natural resources are long gone. The soils are able to feed just about 6 million people out of 35 million”, warns Beatrice Byarugaba, Commissioner Crop production & marketing of ministry of Agriculture. 

She said this at today’s draft National Fertilizer Sub-sector Strategy (NFS) validation workshop at Imperial Royale Hotel. The draft strategy that was formulated after consultations with all stakeholder including farmers’ associations, civil society, three parliamentary committees on Agriculture, Finance and Natural resources will also be adopted by the East African Community (EAC) according to Komayombi Bulegeya, Commissioner Crop protection, Ministry of Agriculture.

Whereas the Abuja declaration of 2006 implored all African states to increase the use of fertilizers to at least 50kgs of nutrients per hectare per year by 2015, Uganda’s rate stands at a measly 1kg of per hectare per year.

Uganda also lags behind in providing subsidies to fertilizer importers unlike its neighbours such as Kenya that offer 28% , Tanzania -  50% and Malawi - 78% hence making fertilizers in their respective countries cheaper. In fact, it is partly believed, that, it is this very incentive that has turned Malawi from a net maize importer to a net maize exporter in just a few years though drought affected this year’s harvests.

With a vision of “A competitive, profitable and sustainable fertilizer sub-sector contributing to food and income security, and environmental health”, the strategy intends to overturn the country’s productivity for better by 2019. For example, the application of just 1kg per hectare of maize would yield 2.5m tons of maize, a 50kg per hectare on the other hand would produce 6.3m tons bringing in an extra Shs3m for the farmer.

Byarugaba says that the earlier Uganda adopts the use and implementation of fertilizers to boost crop yields and production, the better, because the soils have been depleted without replenishment rendering the country to produce at just 30% of its agricultural potential.

This is against a backdrop that the agriculture sector contributes about 23% of GDP, 48% of the country’s exports. The sector also accounts for 40% of the manufacturing industry in addition to 60% of the country’s labour force.

The strategy hopes to regulate and institutionalize capacity ensuring quality, environmentally safe supply and use of fertilizers to achieve sustainable productivity and production. It also hopes to strengthen capacity of farmers to engage in safe, profitable and sustainable fertilizer use. It also hopes to strengthen capacity of suppliers to deliver fertilizers in the right quantity, quality, time and in a cost-effective manner.

Organic or inorganic

Even societies that had for long resisted the use of inorganic fertilizers because of their natural fertile soils and good weather are left with no choice as the soils can no longer support and sustain increased yield productions. And according to Komayombi, the soils never differentiate or tell whether the fertilizer coming in is organic or inorganic.

“This idea that inorganic fertilizers spoil soil structures and composition is not true. Wherever [organic or inorganic] the nutrients are coming from, the soils are more than happy to receive them. Of course good soil management practices have to be put in use whether for organic or inorganic fertilizers”, he says.

As such government has already licensed a Chinese firm, Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group Co. Ltd to prospect phosphates fertilizer production in Sukulu and Busumba in Tororo. The country also possesses significant amounts of limestone in Tororo and Kasese; vermiculite deposits in Busumbu near Tororo – all ingredients for making inorganic fertilizers. Currently, the Uganda imports just 50,000 metric tons yet it needs one million tons for effective production.

During the workshop some participants were concerned that the NFP would propagate bad soil practices, as, farmers would become less concerned about the soils losing their nutrients just because they have inorganic fertilizers.

Others said that the project estimated to cost Shs 132.4 billion to implement - with the Uganda government covering about 22% should not be extended to farmers free of charge but at a cost so as to create value and encourage better farming practices.

The ministry of Agriculture’s response was that it was looking more at the idea of offering subsidies to bulk fertilizer importers. It was also suggested that government moves in to discourage the importation of smaller quantities of fertilizers (less than 50kg) as these are easier to concoct and counterfeit.

A similar strategy was adopted in Rwanda with their government only permitting importation of only 29kg and above packages of fertilizers.  Without subsidies, a 50kg fertilizer in Uganda costs Shs 150,000 translating to about Shs 3,000 per kg yet on the international market it is just a tenth (Shs 300) for the same quantity and quality.

The strategy was developed and by the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries in collaboration with Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) with support from the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

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