At least eight in every ten 50-kilogramme inorganic fertiliser bags on the Ugandan market do not meet the minimum quality standards, a study by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) and the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), has revealed.
Analytical results of fertiliser samples in the study titled Are Ugandan farmers using the right quality inorganic fertiliser? show low-quality fertiliser – with moisture content above the acceptable limits of 0.5 to 1.5 per cent – and deceit in both weight and nutrient content.
Presenting the research findings at Imperial Royale hotel last week, Dr Swaibu Mbowa, a senior research fellow at EPRC, noted that inconsistences in labelling, weight and nutrient content were realised across the fertiliser value chain, suggesting flaws even at importation level.
This implies that either overseas manufacturers deliberately produce low-nutrient fertiliser or importers are unable to establish the quality of the fertilisers.
The analysis, which covered all four regions in Uganda, was based on samples from 50kg bags and small one to two-kilogramme packs of commonly-used fertilisers on the market. These are Urea, NPK, DAP and CAN. In the study, a sample was considered non-compliant if found lacking in either moisture content or weight. Inconsistences were more pronounced in DAP, NPK and CAN fertiliser.
“It was observed that 67 per cent of samples from importers, 65 per cent from unregistered MAAIF retailers, 80 per cent of MAAIF registered shops were non-compliant,” Mbowa said. Re-packaging of fertilisers to get quantities affordable to individual farmers was cited as the biggest reason for inconsistences in moisture content.
With such findings, it is likely farmers could ignore the use of fertilisers, where Uganda has one of the lowest usages in the world. Today, the use of fertilisers in Uganda is rated at about one kilogram of nutrient per hectare per year, compared to Kenya’s 32kg/ha, Rwanda’s 29kg/ha and Tanzania’s six kg/ha.
Uganda is a signatory to the 2006 Abuja declaration that set to move Africa’s nine kilograms of nutrient per hectare per year to a minimum of 50 kilograms by 2012.
According to Bulegeya Komayombi, the commissioner for crop protection at MAAIF, poor-quality fertiliser and their limited use explain why Uganda’s agricultural sector growth is stuck at two per cent while the population growth is at 3.2 per cent.
“If we are to feed our emerging population, agricultural growth should be at least six per cent. But we cannot do this unless we use fertilisers of genuine quality,” he said.
Uganda can have genuine fertilisers only if there are enabling policy measures, some experts say. Uganda is currently without any policy on fertilisers since the volume of imported fertilisers is small – 50,000 tonnes per year – and the ministry is incapacitated in terms of human and financial resources to monitor the usage.
For instance, at its agro-chemicals and fertilisers department, there are only ten inspectors, who are supposed to monitor the inflow of fertilisers and their distribution across the country.
“You find that because of resource constraint, we are basically stationed at the ministry head office and some main border points. So, we cannot exhaustively carry out regulatory work,” said John Mwanja, a senior agricultural inspector at MAAIF.
Sylvia Kyeyune, the chairperson of the Uganda Seed Trade Association, believes this could be the problem.
“Anyone can import any kind of fertiliser without being subjected to laboratory test. This means the chances of fertiliser producers to exploit the loophole and sell us substandard products are high,” Kyeyune says.
As one of the EPRC study’s recommendations, the ministry has been asked to establish a stronger regulatory framework and strengthen its fertiliser inspection unit. This starts with the operationalisation of the Fertiliser Policy, Fertiliser Regulations and National Fertiliser Strategy, all of which are yet to be tabled before cabinet for approval.
Launching the study, Agriculture State Minister Vincent Ssempijja acknowledged the policy gap and promised to work with the trade and finance ministries to speed up the discussion and approval of these policy tools.
“But as we look at introducing policies, I think we should encourage farmers to be more vigilant and reject poor-quality fertilisers,” Ssempijja said.
“Some of our neighbouring countries have succeeded in organising farmers into productive organisations. If farmers are organised, they can identify genuine input suppliers at a good cost – that is what we should look at.”