Fertilizer: West African agricultural sector worried as input prices soar

The main source of activity in the subregion (60% of jobs) and at the heart of food security and national sovereignty issues the West African agricultural sector has been hit hard by the soaring prices of the main fertilizers.

In the space of a few months, the most widely used agricultural inputs have seen their prices explode. This is particularly true of DAP (Diammonium Phosphate), one of the most widely used fertilizers in West Africa: its price has doubled since December and is now approaching $600 per ton. The same is true for urea, a common nitrogen solution whose price has continued to rise since the beginning of the year. The case of sulphur-based fertilization is the most instructive. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, « the average price has risen from 70 dollars (per ton) to 230 dollars in less than a year, » says a local importer, who explains this generalized inflation in fertilizer prices by « the increase in the price of the components needed to produce them.

In fact, this series of illustrations is a reminder of the strong upward trend in the current global economic situation, driven by strong demand and soaring prices for raw materials, especially nitrogen and phosphate. A configuration further reinforced by the increase in costs related to maritime freight, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result, in many West African countries, a wind of concern is blowing through the agricultural sector. In Mauritania, a number of media outlets have reported on the difficulties encountered by the Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire (CSA), the public institution in charge of supplying agricultural inputs in the country, which at the end of February had great difficulty in concluding its call for tenders for the purchase of 7,800 tons of DAP and 15,000 tons of urea. Quoted by our colleague Jeune Afrique, Mounir Halim, Managing Director of Afriqom, a consultancy firm specializing in the fertilizer market in Africa, notes that « while Benin has managed the situation well by making its purchases before prices rose, Mali and Burkina Faso are suffering from the upward trend, while supplies in Ghana could also be weakened. 

This tense situation is not likely to improve the already low use of fertilizer by African agriculture. The continent’s farmers use the least amount of fertilizer in the world – about 15 kg/ha compared to more than 200 kg/ha in China, nearly 190 kg/ha in Europe or the United States, and more than 100 kg/ha in India. Worse, agricultural performance could suffer in the near future. Many of the actors interviewed are already worried about a possible drop in cash crops or even a food crisis.