Russian war exacerbates fertilizer crisis, endangers food supply

Kyambu County, Kenya (AP) – Monica Kariuki is ready to give up farming. Chasing her out of her 10 acres of land outside Nairobi is bad weather, pests or flight – traditional agricultural curses – but compost: it costs more.

Despite thousands of miles separating her from the battlefields of Ukraine, Kariuki and his cabbage, corn and lettuce farms have been indirectly affected by the invasion of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The war has pushed up the price of natural gasFertilizer is a major raw material, and has led to tough sanctions against Russia, a major exporter of the fertilizer.

Kariyuki fertilized his entire farm for 20,000 Kenyan shillings, or about $ 175. Now, she has to spend five times as much. He said he will get nothing but loss as he continues to work on the land.

“I can’t continue farming. I am leaving farming to try something else, ”he said.

Higher fertilizer prices make the world’s food supply more expensive And less abundantly, farmers reduce nutrients to their crops and get lower yields. When the waves are felt With grocers in rich countries, it can be very difficult to force food into families in poorer countries. This is not likely to be a bad time: the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said last week that its global food price index in March had reached its highest level since its launch in 1990.

The fertilizer crisis threatens to further restrict global food supplies, already hampered by significant grain export disruptions from Ukraine. And Russia. The loss of affordable wheat, barley and other grains raises the possibility of food shortages and political instability. Millions in the Middle East, Africa and some Asian countries rely on subsidized bread and cheap noodles.

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“Food prices will go up because farmers have to make a profit, so what will happen to consumers?” Said Uche Anyanwu, an agricultural expert at the University of Nigeria.

The aid group ActionAid warns that families in the Horn of Africa are already being pushed to the “edge of survival.”

Russia is the world’s No. 1 exporter of nitrogen fertilizers and the world’s second largest exporter of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers. Its ally Belarus is battling Western sanctions and is another major fertilizer producer.

Many developing countries, including Mongolia, Honduras, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Mexico and Guatemala, rely on Russia for at least one-fifth of their imports.

This conflict has already pushed up the high cost of natural gas, Used to make nitrogen fertilizer. The result: David Laporte, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, says some fertilizer companies have “shut down their businesses and stopped operating their factories” because European energy prices are so high.

The conflict in Ukraine was far from over until Jackson Goth, 55, a corn and cabbage farmer from Eldoret in western Kenya, decided whether to go into the planting season. Fertilizer prices have more than doubled over the past year.

Goth said he decided to plant on half an acre of land last year. However, he doubts whether it is possible to make a profit with such expensive fertilizer.

Dimitris Phyllis, a Greek farmer who grows olives, oranges and lemons, called ammonia nitrate “a must-find” and said the cost of fertilizing a 10 hectare (25 acre) olive grove had doubled to 560 euros ($ 310). He said that while selling his produce at the Athens Farm Market, most farmers plan to avoid fertilizing their olive and orange groves this year.

“Many people do not use fertilizers, as a result, the quality of production and the quality of production decreases, and slowly, at some point, because they can not farm their land. No, income,” said Phyllis.

In China, the price of potash – the potassium-rich salt used as fertilizer – has increased by 86% over the previous year. The price of nitrogen fertilizer has gone up by 39% and the price of phosphorus fertilizer by 10%.

In the eastern Chinese city of Taiwan, the manager of a co-operative of 35 families who grow wheat and corn said the price of fertilizer has risen by 40% since the beginning of this year.

“We can’t make money,” the manager said, adding that he would only give his family name, Zhao.

Terry Farms, which produces on 2,100 acres in Ventura, California, has doubled the price of some fertilizer mixtures; Others are up 20%. Vice President William Terry said it was dangerous to change fertilizers because the cheaper versions would not provide “what the crop needs as a source of food”.

As the growing season in Maine approaches, potato growers will have to raise the price of fertilizer by 70% to 100% over last year, depending on the additive.

“Whatever you put in the ground, from fertilizer to fuel, labor, electricity and everything, I think it will be a very expensive crop,” said Donald Flannery, managing director of the Maine Potato Board.

In Prudentopolis, a town in the Brazilian state of Paran, farmer Edimilson Rigley showed a warehouse that was usually packed with bags of manure but would only last a few weeks. With no signs of abandoning the war in Ukraine, he worries that next month when wheat, barley and oats will be planted he will have to go without fertilizer.

“Question: Where is Brazil going to buy more fertilizer from?” he said. “We need to find other markets.”

Other countries hope to help fill the gaps. Nigeria, for example, opened Africa’s largest fertilizer plant last month, and the $ 2.5 billion plant has already shipped fertilizer to the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Meanwhile, India is seeking higher fertilizer imports from Israel, Oman, Canada and Saudi Arabia to make up for lost exports from Russia and Belarus.

“If the supply shortage is bad, we will produce less,” said Kishore Runda of the Non-Profit Indian Fertilizer Association. “That’s why we have to look for options to get more fertilizer in the country.”

Agricultural companies provide support to farmers, especially in Africa where poverty often restricts access to key farm inputs. In Kenya, Apollo Farming helps farmers obtain fertilizer and receive funding.

“Some farmers skip the planting season, while others go into some other endeavor, such as buying sheep to cope,” said Benjamin Engenga, co-founder of the company. “So these support services go a long way for them.”

Governments help, Too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last month that it would provide a $ 250 million grant to support U.S. fertilizer production. The Swiss government has released a portion of its nitrogen fertilizer reserves.

However, there is no easy answer to the double noise of high fertilizer prices and limited supplies. Over the next 12 to 18 months, food researcher Laborde said, it will be “hard.”

Kathy Mathers of the Fertilizer Business Group said the market was already “super, super tight” before the war.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, farmers are happy to get the fertilizer,” he said.


Wiseman reported from Assad and Washington from Lagos, Nigeria. Contributors to this story: Tatiana Bollastri in Sவ்o Paulo, Brazil; Deborah Alvarez in Brasilia, Brazil; Sheikh Salik in New Delhi; Lefteris Pitarakis in Athens; Jamie Keaton in Geneva; Joe McDonald and Yu Ping in Beijing; Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont; Dave Coleback in Barco, North Dakota; Kathia Martinez in Panama; Christoph Nolding in Frankfurt; Fabiola Sánchez in Mexico City; Veselin Doshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; Tariq El-Baraka in Rabat, Morocco; Tassani Wejpongza and Elaine Gurdenbach in Bangkok; Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem; Edie Lederer at the United Nations; And Aya Badravi in ​​Dubai.

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