Grabbing fertiliser opportunity borne by Ukraine war

What you need to know:

Organic innovators should also remember that certification is a marketing tool that may be put aside if their market does not demand for it.

The war Russia has against Ukraine has crippled a lot in farming because Ukraine has in the recent past been a major source of synthetic fertilisers making farming more profitable for many. As a result, fertiliser prices are skyrocketing, making the trade more costly.
In Tanzania, according to BBC Africa, farmers have to place their order for fertilisers, a major farm input, months ahead of time.

Albert Kakande, an organic innovator, says the prices of inorganic fertilisers are increasing with 1kg of NPK up from between Shs2,500 and Shs3,000 to Shs6,000 – Shs6,500.

Farmer awareness
With synthetic fertilisers getting scarce, this could be time for organic fertiliser producers to make a killing. The shortage in the synthetics is a blessings to them because the solution is within the ecosystem. Kakande says for organic fertilisers to fit into this gap, there is need to increase awareness of the dangers of using synthetic farm inputs.

Organic innovators should also remember that certification is a marketing tool that may be put aside if their market does not demand for it. For instance, if you have a manufactured fertiliser and are targeting export farmers, they will need certified fertilisers.
Mr Chariton Namuwoza, the chief executive officer of National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), which deals with certification says they have linked many export businesses to different markets.

“The knowledge gap presents an opportunity for us to engage more people at different levels. The National Organic Farming policy calls for more work to create the Bill to operationalise the policy,” he shares.

Currently, the local and regional markets are increasingly becoming important. The weekly market by NOGAMU, the market at Abayita Ababili as well as those set up by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Uganda are showing the increasing demand for organic products thus the need to increase production.

Bulky inputs

Kakande says one of the challenges they have faced in their advocacy is the quantities of organic fertilisers used in comparison to synthetic inputs.

“The latter are compressed. For example, a farmer only needs 10g of synthetic fertilisers per hole when planting maize yet the organic input will require 100 to 200g. Therefore, the farmer that calculates for immediate response will see this as a very big divergence. As such, not many farmers are willing to cross from conventional farming,” he shares.

Organic farming has a mantra – feed the soil, and it will feed the plant which will in turn give you a healthy product. However, most farmers do not appreciate that thus failing to recognise the compounded costs they incur because synthetic fertilisers are added to support every growth stage.

“There are fertilisers needed for seed germination and development. Others to harden the tissue and develop flowers, and another type to help the plant bear great yields. That is besides the fact that the plant needs other inputs such as pesticides, herbicides,” Kakande explains.

However, in the organic world, when you apply, say bokashi, you give the plants nutrients for the entire growth process. Additionally, the quantity of fertilisers needed reduces with every passing season because the fertiliser remains in the soil,” Kakande explains.

While the inputs are bulky, thus need a lot of material to produce, Kakande says they are teaching farmers how to use locally available inputs to create what their soil needs. For instance, if the need is nitrogen, then tithonia, caliandra and manure works.
In case of potassium, one can use ash to make an ash brew. If they need phosphorous, cow dung mixed with water then filtered will give a soluble phosphorus.  When these are mixed, NPK is got on the farm.

However, Alex Atut, a senior agricultural inspector at the National Fertiliser Analytical Laboratory in the department of crop inspection and certification, says solely using organic inputs is unreliable.
“With our effort to commercialise production, you cannot rely on organic inputs alone because raising the quantity needed to meet the demand of the farmers will be stressful. If all the farmers in Wakiso needed compost, each requiring 10,000kgs, where would it be got from? That is why conventional fertilisers come in to enable commercial production needs,” he says.

Namuwoza takes a step back from Atut saying some of the farmers referred to as organic farmers are either organic by default or strictly traditional farmers. Just because they do not use synthetic chemicals, people think they are organic farmers.

“However, these two farmer types are only close (80 per cent) to organic farming,” he explains.
Delving a little deeper, Namuwoza says organic farming thrives on four principles, one of which is ecology – emphasises the inter-dependency of the different eco system entities where the trees depend on the animals and vice versa. It is from this principle that most farmers allege that organic farming cannot be done on a large scale because they equate practices such as composting to be all the organic farmer should do.

“The belief that bulky fertilisers such as cow dung being all the organic farmer must use is what conventional farmers have relied on to say organic farming on a large scale is impossible,” he says.
However, the organic sector has had major breakthroughs where companies such as VermiPro that are internationally certified are manufacturing bio or organic inputs that are much less bulky compared to conventional ones. For example, 1 litre of a soil detoxifier (to remove the toxic substances and helps to restore soil life) is enough for an acre while three litres of fertilisers are enough.
“In comparison, you will need 50-75kg of DAB for an acre. As such, the notion that organic is bulkier is a thing of the past. This technology is fast becoming relevant and it is getting adapted in livestock farming where the supplements needed for animals are available in a drink,” Namuwoza shares.

For innovators making bokashi, and biochar, he says they can refine the products to make them less bulky or use them in combination with these less bulky farm inputs.
“For instance, bokashi is 75 per cent complete, closer to what the plant needs. Conversely, what these companies are making is 100 per cent what the plant needs to ably fix micro and macro nutrients. A combination is amazing as it betters water and eventually fertiliser retention for soils that lack humus. Water is essential in the transfer of fertilisers from the soil to the plant,” he shares.
With improved technology, organic farming is no longer reliant on only on-farm plant inputs. As such there is input enough to supply the whole country consistently. In the last three years, the laborious processes of making soil inputs are behind farmers.

Certification process
Most organic innovators desire to commercialise their farm inputs. However, the certification process is long, tedious and money consuming. That said, the procedure for product commercialisation is that Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) tests these before they hit the market shelves. For example, if a farmer wants to register a product on irish potatoes, it is tested in the right agroecology - in this case, it is done in areas such as kapchorwa, Zombo or Kabale.

“One of the things that are looked at is yield increment which must be commendable that the farmer can appreciate it over others.

There is also the safety of the product in the sense that when applied as stated by the innovator, does it burn leaves, or affect any physiological process?” Atut shares.
This journey takes three planting seasons which is more than a year, coupled with paying for all expenses for various site visits.

The major challenge with organic innovators is they lack the capacity to document their innovations yet it is these that form part of the key requirements. The lack of it delays the process.

“The information needed is the type of plant the agro-input works on, the amount needed, and the intervals within which it is used for maximum productivity. When such is available the certification process will not take so long,” he says.

The innovator must also work with an agronomist because it is they that support the innovator, more so those without an agricultural background. That said, certification is not needed for inputs that one will only use on their own farm or village.  

For an innovator who wants their produce to be used by organic farmers, Namuwoza says save the MAAIF licence they must get an organic certification. Some of the certifying bodies based in Uganda include CERES (German), Ecocert, (French), Control Union (Dutch), Ugocert (NOGAMU), and OneCert (Indian). All these require lots of money and patience if a local innovator desires to standardise thus commercialise their innovations.