The worry of farmers in the northern regions about the sustainability of the Fertilizer Subsidy Programme (FSP)?must be of grave concern to government and partners in the Agricultural sector. The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana recently expressed worry over Fertilizer shortage in the Northern regions of Ghana. This prompted some actors in the Agricultural communications sector to investigate the circumstances leading to such unfortunate situation. The worry about fertilizer shortage is gradually becoming an annual phenomenon that need to be addressed. Ghana Government introduced the Fertilizer subsidy Programme FSP to alleviate the suffering of farmers and to increase food production in this country, but in my view, the bottlenecks in the distribution of fertilizer is caused by the very system instituted to curb the menace.

It is worthy of note that the perennial shortage of subsidized fertilizer is gravely affecting food crop farming in the north because most farmers are not able to plant their crops at the appropriate time due to their inability to access the produce. In other words, when the fertilizers are stocked at the distribution centers on time, the delay by government to release the quota and subsidy price becomes an issue. In the last 4 or 5 farming seasons or so, farmers have been introduced to varieties of fertilizer brands in the markets under the open market system, which in effect mean there should be abundant variety of fertilizer for farmers to choose.

This has instituted a competition in the distribution of fertilizer which is rather affecting food production. The open market for fertilizer distribution in this country is rather compounding the bottlenecks in the fertilizer industry. Under the FSP, all accredited distributors are entitled to a certain quota for distribution during the season, but most of the accredited companies are not able to exhaust their quota because they do not have the requisite facilities such as adequate warehousing, transportation, and the capacity for networking the distribution system across their areas of operation. The fact is, these distributors are supposed to have local agents in the districts and in the communities so as to provide easy and cheaper access of the products to farmers at the farm gate. This I believe was why the FSP was introduced.

As an Agricultural Communicator, our investigations has revealed that almost all the accredited fertilizer distributors whose products are found in the local markets across the 3 northern regions are supposed to distribute approximately 180,000 metric tons of various brands of fertilizers to farmers this year (2013). Unfortunately most of these companies do not have the capacity to network the distribution of their products. Our checks before the beginning of the season indicated that only 1 or 2 out of about five or so companies supposed to distribute fertilizer in the 3 northern regions have their own warehouses to stock their produce. The current trend is that, some of the distributors receive their quota on the subsidized fertilizer from government, but do not have the capacity to transport the produce to the farm gate for distribution. These distributors sell their allocations of the subsidized fertilizer to some ?local dealers? at top up prices, leaving the local dealers to their fate to transport the produce to their destinations at the regional capitals. Since these dealers do not have the facilities, they also rely on local shop owners in the districts to procure the products to their shops in the district capital. This means the farmers can only buy the fertilizer by coming to the district market where the price would have shot up unreasonably. This is because; the cost for transportation and other expenses are added on to the produce and sold to the poor farmer at a cut throat price. NPKs for instance are sold between GHC60 and GHC65 in Tamale and GHC68 in the district capitals instead of GHC51. At this point it would be the ?irresponsible distributor? who enjoys the subsidy and not the peasant farmer for whom the FSP was introduced. The farmer decides to either buy at the high price or plant his crop without the fertilizer. The local dealer could also take advantage to smuggle the produce to neighboring countries in order to meet his expenses. The consequence of this situation would be a decrease in food production and increased cost of food prices as farmers would push the high cost of production onto the consumer.

A recent visit to the IDISAL Company Warehouses in Tamale, the sole distributor of YARA fertilizers in the northern regions witnessed a huge stock of fertilizers in the company?s ware houses in Tamale. For obvious reasons, the company?s management declined to comment on the fertilizer situation why farmers are crying of shortage. My worry is what will happen to the huge????? stock as the season was gradually coming to a close. A hissing voice however hinted that the company could not longer distribute to farmers because they have exhausted their quota for the year.

A high profile source from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) who spoke on condition of anonymity in his view claimed that the high cost and none availability of fertilizers was due to the quota system which according to him did not consider the farmers needs and priorities. He also hinted that almost all agricultural organizations and farming institutions including MOFA rely on YARA fertilizer for their allocations which has put a huge demand on the produce. The source however did not give specific reasons for the high demand, but said and I quote ?Government must review the Fertilizer distribution quota system and effectively monitor the implementation of the FSP for the removal of the bottlenecks. The open market system in fertilizer distribution he said impugns the current experience where farmers are suffering to access the fertilizers?. The source also predicted low production of maize and rice in particular due to late planting and farmers? inability to sell their produce at good prices last year, coupled with their inability to purchase fertilizers under the FSP.

It is worthy to note that August is the peak of the farming season in the northern regions, and this is the time farmers need fertilizer most. For increase in food production therefore, government should as a matter of urgency consider reviewing the quotas of some the distribution companies to enable them distribute their stock to increase production. Government must listen to the cry by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, and make fertilizer available to save the country from food shortage.

HARRUNA ABUBAKARI SADIQ

(AGRIC. RADIO JOURNALIST)

E-mail: [email protected]

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