Chemical Fertilizer Prices Keep Soaring

By Vincent Nhlema

There is a global outcry. Fertilizer prices have gone through the roof. The situation has sent panic not only to farmers but to world leaders as well. There is panic about how national and global agriculture production will be affected. They fear it could lead to food shortage, pushing commodity prices further upward.

The situation is more worrisome in least developed countries like Malawi, where foreign exchange scarcity exacerbates the situation. In the past three years, Malawi has seen rapid price increase for fertilizer. To a greater extent, this has been attributed to disruption of production and supply chain, induced by Covid-19. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a bigger threat to the fertilizer industry. Russia tops fertilizer and natural gas (a major component in production of nitrogen-based fertilizer) exports but with sanctions and disrupted supply logistics due to the invasion of Ukraine, supply shortage is looming.

We are living in a digital age, where information travels at the speed of light. In recent years, most sectors have enjoyed a fair share of technology adoption, allowing them to easily create and share content with players and end-users for improved productivity. Somehow, the agriculture sector lagged behind, more especially in least developed countries, including Malawi. The situation is however, slowly improving.

The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) is one of the farmer organisations that has adopted use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to reach out to farmers with relevant and timely information that aims to improve their farming business.

Mwakasungula and his wife tilling a plot in readiness for Rice transplanting

By Vincent Nhlema

Farmers are now looking back at the 2021/22 farming season, which faced a number of challenges, with delayed rains standing out for most farmers who depend on rainfed production. Almost the whole country experienced late onset of rains, sending panic to farmers whose livelihoods depend on rainfed production.

Steven Gama, a farmer from Kasungu experienced an unusual season due to high temperatures that affected his crops. His maize crop wilted dried at the start of the season to do dry spells, despite late onset of rains.

Dyna Mangapi from Mulanje, is another farmer who is reeling from the negative effects of climate change. She lost chilli crop right at nursery beds due to prolonged dry spell which meant she could not transplant in the absence of rains. By the time the rains came, the seedlings were beyond the transplanting stage.

These are few of the many examples of how delayed onset of rains affected farmers in the 2012/22 farming season.

The case was however, different for those with alternative source of water. Their production calendar went to plan despite the late onset of rains.

As crop yields dwindle due to climate change, rice growers in Karonga are discarding traditional planting methods to harvest more from their small plots.

Geoffrey Mkandawire, a father of two girls and four boys in Mwenewise Village, now saves seed and gets a bumper harvest by planting a single seedling per station.

“I was born here in 1969 and grew up growing rice as the main cash crop, but we used to waste seed until we learnt to transplant one seedling per station. Now I use just 3.5kg on an acre that once required up to 40kg when I was using the broadcasting method,” he explains.

Mkandawire is among 883 farmers in the paddies of Karonga who acquired certified seed from the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) for the new system of rice intensification, called SRI.