BY VICTOR ADAR
The issue of food security has been there for quite a long time. Although it is a complex issue, it is clear that it is not just about perennial lack of access to finance, non empowered farmers, cartels and corrupt deals being some of the things hurting the agricultural sector, but also high prices of fertilizer. So bad the situation that things will only open up and special food challenges becoming a thing of the past if, and only if, focus is angled towards practicing profitable agriculture.
As an effort to curb such issues, a Sh1 billion loan that a fertilizer granulation plant, Fertiplant, a sister company of Mea Fertilizer, recently received from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is expected to give life to farmers.
According to Titus Gitau, executive director at Fertiplant East Africa Limited, the fund will be used for the construction of Sub-Saharan Africa’s second fertilizer granulation plant set to be operational by end of 2017 in Nakuru. The plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 100,000 metric tonnes and will offer employment to over 100 people.
“Change the conversation and you change the outcome,” says Gitau. “Besides producing fertilizer, Fertiplant as a thought leader will champion the conversation to have farming stakeholders approach farming as a business and understand the science behind it.”
Indeed, availing fertilizers to farmers is not enough, teaching farmers the best ways to use farm inputs effectively and efficiently is the most critical for a food secure Kenya. The latest in steam granulation technology will be employed by Fertiplant in order to allow for the plant to produce designer and tailor-made fertilizer combinations that directly address soil nutrient deficiencies and crops nutrient needs – with farmers set to benefit from speciality fertilizer for tea, coffee, potatoes and maize tailored for different regions in Kenyan, Ugandan, Rwandese, Tanzanian and Burundian markets.
Besides producing precision fertilizer, Fertiplant also brings the assurance of a significant reduction in fertilizer prices as it will be using cheaper unprocessed raw materials. It is against the perceived timeliness and importance that Fertiplant East Africa was awarded a Vision 2030 flagship status in June 2016, thus serving as an assurance to both government and stakeholders of the company’s support towards the realization of the project as it will greatly impact on the set Vision 2030 goals of a food secure nation.
“Responsible fertilizer companies like Fertiplant can support farmers create jobs and increase food security in the region,” Gitau says, pegging the milestone on a long 40 year journey that the Mea Fertilizer family has been on to transform and make agriculture rewarding and sustainable.
“Feeding the world’s ever increasing population remains a thorn in the flesh of many governments, pitting an ever increasing number of mouths against finite and in some cases reducing arable land. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, around 795 million people are chronically hungry today, and to meet the food demand of our growing population, food production is going to need to increase by 60% by 2050,” says Gitau.
His sentiments were echoed by Hans Peter Lankes, IFC’s Vice President for Development Economics, who noted during the signing ceremony that the investment in Fertiplant is part of IFC’s strategy to promote the development and competitiveness of East Africa’s agricultural sector.
Boosting crop yields and closing the gap between actual and attainable yields can be achieved by the implementation and advancement of various practices and technologies, including mechanization, seed development and fertilizer technologies. In fact, fertilizer plays a very critical role in food security and if all factors are held constant, high yields of up to 40 bags of maize per/acre are possible locally by adopting the 4R principles – right nutrient source at the right rate, right time and right place; all of which are primarily informed through soil testing.
“Before you apply fertilizer or grow your crops, you must first understand your soils nutrient composition and the nutritional demands of the crops you will plant,” Mr Gitau says.
By understanding soil fertility which is the soil’s reserve of crop nutrients that is broadly equated with soil quality and soil health, a farmer then can get a tailor-made fertilizer from Fertiplant that will address the nutrient deficiencies of their soil and nutritional requirements of the plant they are growing. Studies on correct and efficient usage of fertilizer and other farm inputs have shown between 50-120% increases in yields per acre when all other factors are held constant.
With these projected highpoints, farmers are challenged to change the direction of their farming conversation from the cost of inputs to the value of outputs significantly altering the farmers focus towards their full potential.
Many times farmers are stuck and locked out from subsidised fertilizer because of what one industry expert calls “bad supply chain full of middlemen” who, as always the case, would get the much needed product early enough in bulk, inflate the rates then sell to uninformed farmers at higher prices. But now this first fertilizer granulation plant is set to revolutionize regional approach towards crop farming.