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Substandard inputs driving food insecurity in East Africa August 6, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Food Production.
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Dodgy fertiliser is keeping Uganda hungry

A new study suggests that good quality fertiliser is more important than agricultural education or micro credit for improving food security in Uganda

Fransisco Trono, The Guardian

Poor quality fertiliser is keeping yields down in Uganda, according to a new study. Photograph, Dan Chung for the Guardian

Poor quality fertiliser is keeping yields down in Uganda, according to a new study. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian
For agricultural development practitioners, it’s one of the great unanswered questions: why has farm productivity in Africa lagged so far behind the rest of the developing world?

A new study suggests part of the reason is that the planting materials available to African farmers are just terrible.
Take fertiliser. In the developed world, massive overuse of chemical fertilisers has given the stuff a bad name, but in many poorer countries where farmers scratch out a living from badly depleted soils, relatively small amounts of inorganic fertiliser can double or triple farmer’s yields in a single growing season, spelling the difference between hunger and plenty for millions of food insecure farmers.

Most households also apply manure from their goats and cows on fields as a natural fertiliser, but in most cases there isn’t enough manure to replenish the nitrogen in the earth.

As Dr Todd Bensen of the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) in Washington puts it, “there aren’t any silver bullets in development, but probably the closest thing we have is fertiliser.”

So, if you’re a poor African farmer, you’d be smart to invest in a little fertiliser, right?

Not necessarily.

As researchers are finding out, if the fertiliser available to you is mostly low-quality, it may not be worth it.

The study tested samples of urea fertiliser for sale to farmers in Uganda and found shoddy, low quality fertiliser was pervasive in the Ugandan market

“On average,” the study says, “retail fertiliser contained 31% less nutrient than authentic fertiliser.” And virtually every one of the 369 samples the team tested was significantly under-strength, with less than 1% being more than 90% pure.

The trouble for farmers isn’t just that the fertiliser in Uganda is low quality, it’s the variability of the quality in the market. The fertiliser for sale in the market was all over the chart in terms of quality, and there was no easy way for farmers to distinguish the good stuff from the bad. This makes the learning process hit-and-miss: farmers might get lucky with relatively high strength fertiliser one year, only to be burned by a bad batch the following year.

None of this comes as a surprise to Ugandan farmers. After surveying them, the team found farmers are very well aware of the impact of using genuine fertiliser, and at the same time of the unreliability of the fertiliser actually available to them. Survey results find that, as a group, Ugandan farmers have an uncannily accurate reading of the quality of fertiliser on the market: data setting out the actual nitrogen concentration of fertiliser on the market show remarkable correlation with data setting out farmers’ expectations of fertiliser quality on the market.

Compounding the problem, the study finds that much of the hybrid seed available to farmers is low quality as well, offering substantially lower yields than genuine hybrid seeds. The team tested yields from genuine hybrid seeds, from seeds informally saved by farmers from one season to the next, and from seeds available in local retail markets. As expected, genuine hybrids offered much higher yields than farmer-saved seed. But the seed available to farmers in local retail markets performed, on average, as if the two seed-stocks had been mixed half-and-half.

The researchers didn’t stop there. They planted a series of test plots with local and improved seeds and fertilisers at different levels of purity, to check their impact on yields and livelihoods. Their findings are emphatic: while the vast majority of farmers could expect positive economic returns from real seed and fertiliser, spending money on the dodgy stuff that’s actually available to them would be a wasted money for most Ugandan farmers.
In fact, the study finds that a staggering 80% of farmers could expect to lose money if they invest in seed and fertiliser bought from local markets. It’s little wonder, then, that very few Ugandan farmers bother with market seed and fertiliser at all.

The study didn’t look into the question of why so much of the seed and fertiliser for sale in Uganda is of such poor quality, but stories of malicious adulteration and counterfeiting are rife. Unscrupulous agrodealers are widely believed to “bulk out” their fertiliser bags with cheaper ingredients to extend their profits and to maliciously sell sub-standard grain as hybrid seed.

Other factors could also be at play: if fertiliser is not carefully stored and handled it can volatilise, with important proportions of its precious nitrogen content simply wafting up into the air. And if the moisture content of hybrid seeds is not carefully monitored, germination rates can suffer, leading to losses.

Associate Professor Yanagizawa-Drott, speaking for the research team, says that sparking interest in the exact reasons for low agro-input quality was a priority for the team. “This was really a very simple paper that set out to state some facts. We wanted to open up some questions and set out the case for further research.”

The call comes as international organisations begin to wake up to the problem of substandard inputs driving food insecurity in east Africa. USAid’s landmark Feed the Future programme is focusing on the problem, and a major research project by Ifpri on behalf of USAid is using mobile-phone based platforms to verifying the authenticity of agro-inputs in Uganda . At least three other, smaller research projects are in the works in the region.

As “sustainable intensification” becomes the watchword of agricultural development aid projects, cracking the problem of improving farmer take-up of technology is paramount. More often than not, sustainable intensification projects emphasise farmer education or improved access to credit as interventions able to break the logjam, persuading farmers to spend more on modern agricultural inputs. The assumption is often that farmers are acting irrationally in underinvesting in modern inputs, and projects can help them see the error of their ways.

But if this study is right, development projects focused only on improving access to agricultural credit or agronomic advice may fall short. The reason Ugandan farmers don’t buy market seed and fertiliser isn’t just that they lack education or credit: it’s that, given what’s available to them, no canny businessperson would.


Economy: South Africa At Top Of wealth List For Africa, Ethiopia At Very Bottom January 8, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Aid to Africa, Colonizing Structure, Corruption, Development, Dictatorship, Domestic Workers, Economics, Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Knowledge and the Colonizing Structure., Oromummaa, Self determination, The Colonizing Structure & The Development Problems of Oromia, Tyranny, Uncategorized, Warlords.
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Ethiopian is among the poorest  in Africa, while South Africa tops the continent’s list of wealth per capita, a new survey released on Tuesday showed.

South Africa’s wealth per person last year was $11,310, according to research by consultancy New World Wealth, which has offices in the UK and South Africa. South Africa’s wealth per person grew 169% from $4,200 in 2000. Ethiopia’s wealth per capita last year stood at $260.

This was  very far lower than that of Zimbabwe ($570), Tanzania ($450), Mozambique ($430) and Uganda ($360).
Wealth per capita is a measure of the net assets held by individuals including real estate, shares, business interests and intangibles, while excluding primary residences, according to the research released on Tuesday.

Libya ($11,040 wealth per capita), Tunisia ($8,400), Algeria ($6,250), Morocco ($5,780) and Egypt ($4,350) rank high on the list. Namibia, with per capita wealth of $10,500, and Botswana at $6,580 were among the top-ranked countries in Africa last year. This was, however, well below the global average of $27,600 and a fraction of that of the top-ranked countries such as Switzerland and Australia with wealth per capita of more than $250,000. When it comes to fastest-growing countries by economic growth per capita from 2000 to 2012, Angola tops the continental list, followed by Ghana and Zambia.





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