Russia-Ukraine war exacerbates fertilizer crisis, endangers food supply: NPR


William Terry of Terry Farms sees strawberries on his farm in Oxnord, California on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Terry Farms produces produce on 2,100 acres. Others are up 20%.

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William Terry of Terry Farms sees strawberries on his farm in Oxnord, California on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Terry Farms produces produce on 2,100 acres. Others are up 20%.

Mark J. Daryl / AB

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

Although thousands of miles have separated her from the battlefields of Ukraine, Karyuki and her 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 gas, the main source of fertilizer, and led to tougher sanctions against Russia, a major exporter of 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’m leaving farming to try something else,” he said.

Warning about rising food prices

Higher fertilizer prices make the world’s food supply more expensive and less expensive because farmers avoid nutrients for their crops and get lower yields. While these waves will be felt by grocers in rich countries, the pressure on food will severely affect 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, with important grain exports from Ukraine and Russia already blocked. The loss of affordable wheat, barley and other grains raises the possibility of food shortages and political instability in the Middle East, Africa and some Asian countries where millions rely on subsidized bread and cheap noodles.

“Food prices will skyrocket because farmers want 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.


In Kenya, on Thursday, March 31, 2022, farmer Charles Kachchi removes weeds with a shovel at a flower garden in Kyambu, near Nairobi.

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In Kenya, on Thursday, March 31, 2022, farmer Charles Kachchi removes weeds with a shovel at a flower garden in Kyambu, near Nairobi.

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This conflict has already pushed up the price of natural gas used to make nitrogen fertilizer. Consequence: Some fertilizer companies have “shut down their businesses and stopped operating their factories because European energy prices are so high,” said David Laford, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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, said you should search for ammonia nitrate and that the cost of fertilizing a 10 hectare (25 acre) olive grove has 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 at all, and as a result, the quality of production and the quality of production is declining, and slowly, at some point, because they can not farm their land. No, income, ” Phyllis said.

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.

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

In Prudentopolis, a city 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.”

Countries are trying to fill gaps from Russian fertilizer supplies

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 Agriculture helps farmers obtain fertilizer and funding.

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

Governments also help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last month that it would provide a $ 250 million subsidy to support U.S. fertilizer production. The Swiss government has released part 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.

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