Nigeria needs fertiliser education to realise Dangote plant potential: AFEX

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 6 December 2022 06:00

Trucks at the newly commissioned Dangote fertilizer plant in Ibeju-lekki, Lagos, Nigeria, March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Farmers in rural parts of Nigeria have their own way of testing whether a fertiliser is worth buying.

They put it in their mouth and taste it. A sharp tang is taken as a sign of good quality, but a bland taste means the product is likely to be rejected.

The hit-and-miss approach endangers the health of farmers due to the chemicals in the fertiliser, while crop yields are not maximised as they could be, Kamaldeen Raji, managing director at AFEX Fair Trade, tells The Africa Report. Education, he says, is the only solution.

AFEX Fair Trade is part of AFEX, Nigeria’s first private sector-led commodity exchange. Declining national fertiliser use as prices increase has been identified by AFEX as a factor constraining farm yields at a time of high food inflation. Increased fertiliser prices prompted by the Russia-Ukraine war have seen farmers cut back on their use, according to an AFEX survey published in November. Per hectare yields ranging between 100 and 200 kg for maize, paddy and sorghum should be around 300 kg, Raji says.

The survey covered 20,677 farmers across all regions of Nigeria and focused on maize, sorghum, soybean, paddy rice and cocoa. Fertilizer use, the survey found, had a positive impact on farm output across all commodities. Yet many farmers used less fertiliser on cost grounds, with prices tripling between May and August 2022.

  • The result is likely to be higher food commodity prices across the board, says the report, with the strongest prices forecast in maize, a major staple in Nigerian rural households, sorghum and paddy.
  • For policymakers , a short-term priority could be to provide targeted support to poorer households facing higher food and energy prices, the AFEX report says.
  • There also needs to be more planning to hold reserves of grain commodities and release them as needed to limit price increases, it adds.

Dangote plant

Dangote’s $2.5bn fertiliser plant in the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Lagos opened in March. The plant should have a “big positive impact,” Raji says. Most fertiliser is used in the north, and fact that Aliko Dangote comes from Kano is a big plus, according to Raji. Dangote is “seen as one of them. The acceptance rate for his fertilisers is very high.”

According to Dangote Industries, current annual consumption of urea fertiliser in Nigeria is about 1m tonnes per year. That needs to rise to 5m tonnes in the next five to seven years, with the country’s population forecast to grow to 262m by 2030, the company says. The plant aims to produce 3m tonnes of urea fertiliser per year in phase 1.

Raji is “very confident” that Dangote will be able to quickly increase production of urea. The fact that the company already trucks cement all over Nigeria should enable better fertiliser distribution, he says, which will reduce the times that farmers spend travelling to cities to buy fertiliser.

Still, the country’s inadequate road network will remain a constraint. Most fertiliser in Nigeria is produced in the south, distant from its ultimate users. Small van deliveries would be possible with better roads, Raji says.

Mentalities also need to change. Many rural farmers are “very conservative. They hardly speak to anyone” and are careful to guard their secrets, Raji says. Many will buy the cheapest fertiliser on offer regardless of the contents.

  • There are not enough extension officers giving basic fertiliser information, leading to “distortion” as messages are passed on by word of mouth, Raji says.
  • Year-round engagement to educate rural farmers will be a key task for the new administration after the elections in February, he concludes.

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