Progress on the Development of the National Fertilizer Policy

by Paida Mpaso -NAPAS: Malawi

Despite immense efforts by the Government of Malawi (GoM) in investing in fertilizers through the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) since the 2005/06 farming season, agriculture in Malawi continues to be characterized by low productivity. This is due to several reasons, including: high soil degradation, poor land management and farming practices, and use of low quantities and quality of fertilizers. This has been exacerbated by continuous tilage of the same pieces of land without fallowing or crop rotation, mainly due to high population pressure on the land, resulting in poor soil health and low response to fertilizers that are applied.

To address above issues, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) has drafted a National Fertilizer Policy (NFP). The NFP defines the vision for developing the fertilizer industry in Malawi to increase affordable and profitable access to high-quality fertilizer products for all farmers over the next five years. The draft is informed by research evidence and extensive consultation. Some of the research evidence comes from soil test analyses done by Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and Department of Land Resource Conservation (DLRC) in almost all the districts of Malawi. The soil testing and mapping revealed a great need for private sector to start blending the right types of fertilizers for different geographic areas of Malawi. There is also need to advise stakeholders including farmers, on the right fertilizers for their area and abandon the blanket fertilizer recommendation the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has followed since 1975, with limited agricultural productivity results. The recommendation has been to apply 23:21:0+4S as basal fertilizer and UREA/CAN as top fertilizer throughout the whole country, where 23 represents Kgs of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and elements of Sulphur, respectively.

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Fertilizer bags under the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) - Photo by Paida Mpaso

The research also shows that a large portion of Malawi’s soils is acidic and non-responsive to fertilizers that are applied, necessitating the need to address soil health issues. Some of the literature revealed relatively high usage of fertilizer in Malawi (55.8 kgs of nitrogen / ha in 2016/17), surpassing the Abuja Declaration of 2001 that recommended each African country to apply at least 50 Kgs of fertilizer per ha. However, this fertilizer usage is still very low relative to industrialized countries like US and China that apply 130kg/ha and 200kg/ha, respectively. The research also shows low Nitrogen Use Efficiency (average of 11.8 kg of maize per 1 kg of nitrogen applied (Darko et al., 2016)) while other countries like Kenya achieved higher (17.6 kgs of maize from 1 kg of nitrogen).

The low fertilizer use efficiency has been attributed to poor soil fertility management that has led to declining soil fertility and increasing soil acidity levels, among others. To promote higher response to fertilizer use, there is need to manage the soils better through integrated soil fertility management that, among others, involves intercropping legumes with maize, doing crop rotation, timely planting and weeding, timely and correct fertilizer application rates and proper crop residues management (Snapp et al., 2014).

Other research shows that although Malawi has a relatively well-developed policy framework for the fertilizer industry, there are inefficiencies in the way the policies are implemented (World Bank “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” 2017 report). The report ranked Malawi last out of 62 countries, on the high costs associated with registering a fertilizer product, which costs 3030% of per capita income. Similarly it takes an average of 913 days to register a fertilizer product in Malawi.

It is with this background that the MoAIWD is developing a National Fertilizer Policy with technical support from the New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support Project (NAPAS:Malawi). The Project is funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Michigan State University Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics as one of the policy project of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy. The process of developing the Policy started in November 2015 with DARS convening the first consultation with researchers, private sector and other stakeholders in the fertilizer industry. A total of 45 stakeholders attended (10 female).

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Participants during breakaway session at the first fertilizer policy consultations, Crossroads Hotel, Lilongwe, November 2015. Photo by Charles Mwenda

Following this, consultations with 115 community stakeholders from several districts in all the regions of Malawi were conducted between April and May 2016. The Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) joined NAPAS:Malawi in supporting the MoAIWD to conduct the community consultations. One-on-one consultations with 32 private sector stakeholders were also conducted between June and July 2016. From these inputs and evidence from the literature, a zero draft of the policy was produced.

The Ministry then organized regional stakeholder consultations on the zero NFP draft, also with support of NAPAS:Malawi and USAID funding. The first regional consultation was held in Mzuzu, on 4th of August 2017 with 70 participants (63 males and 7 females) that included public officials, agro dealers, farmers and farmer organizations, civil society, private sector and researchers/academia. In her opening remarks, at this consultation, Chief of Party (COP) for NAPAS:Malawi, Dr. Flora Nankhuni said that, “agricultural productivity is very low partly due to increasing population pressure in that, as a country, we mine the same piece of land over and over again, and this creates problems on the quality of the soils.”

The second regional consultation was held on 15th of August 2017 in Blantyre with 76 participants (64 males and 12 females). The final regional consultation was held in Lilongwe, on 22nd August 2017 with 115 participants (96 males and 19 females). During the three consultations, several critical issues emerged, including: soil health; soil testing and analysis; and lack of agricultural extension and advisory services on soil health issues. The soil analyses included describing the soil fertility status including soil pH, which measures the level of acidity in the soil and micronutrient composition of the soil. Previous soil analyses revealed that about 40% of Malawi soils were acidic. Preliminary results of the current soil tests are indicating a worsening of the acidity problem.

At the Lilongwe consultation meeting, Alliance for African Partnership Director at Michigan State University and Chair of the Malawi Planning Commission, Professor Richard Mkandawire, commented that the agenda on fertilizer should speak to larger challenges of soil health, because Malawi’s soils are the most depleted in the region. He further commented that Malawi is well positioned to lead the growth of the fertilizer sector because the per capital consumption of fertilizer is much higher than in many countries in the region. He emphasized the need to have a strong fertilizer policy framework to inform the future direction of the fertilizer industry in Malawi.

The Draft Policy was validated on the 28th of March 2018. The plan is to submit it to the Office of the President and Cabinet  (OPC) in April 2018.