Optichem Malawi, the only local company with a fertilizer granulation plant, has contributed 5, 500 metric tonnes towards the 2011/12 Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) in what Productions Manager, Samuel Synoden, says is a sign that the local industry can meet local demand if well- supported.
Government introduced Fisp in 2004/05 agriculture season to improve the national food security situation and uplift production levels among smallholder farmers following years of poor harvests.
According to Agriculture and Food Security Principal Secretary, Erica Maganga, 1.6 million farmers received coupons to buy subsidized fertilizer during the 2010/11 season, as compared to the 2011/12 growing season following government’s decision to slash the number of beneficiaries to 1.4 million. This has led to a 30,000 reduction in procured tonnage this year, with only 140,000 metric tonnes of inputs procured, as opposed to 170,000 metric tonnes for last season.
Speaking in an interview Tuesday, Synoden said changes in the programme have not affected Optichem as the company has still contributed “significantly” towards the 2011/12 inputs programme.
“We are happy that, as a local company, we have been given a chance to contribute towards Malawi’s food security programme again. In fact, Optichem started operating in Malawi in 1969 because we wanted to be part of the country’s efforts to attain food security,” said Synoden.
Synoden said, however, that the company has the capacity to contribute more, citing the capacity of Optichem’s granulation and blending plants.
“We have the capacity to supply all types of fertilizer because our plants give us the capacity to cater for all types of fertilizer. For example, our granulation plant has the capacity to produce 50,000 metric tonnes per annum, while our blending machine produces 60, 000 metric tonnes a year. In total, we are producing 110, 000 metric tonnes a year,” said Synoden.
Granulation is a system where raw materials for fertilizer are melted (turned into liquid form) and, then, used to make free-flowing granules. Blending, on the other hand, involves the mixing of various raw materials to make one product. These raw materials, which may include Urea, D.A.P. and filler, are then used to meet any specification of fertilizer.
He added that the fact that the company produces a total of 110, 000 metric tonnes of fertilizer a year shows that Optichem can contribute even more fertilizer towards Fisp. Optichem has, during this year’s programme, supplied 23:10:5:+4s+1zn. This is fertilizer used for plant growth (basal).
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security inputs’ statistics indicate that Malawi needs 300, 000 metric tonnes of fertilizer to satisfy demand in the agriculture sector. Malawi fills the demand by importing fertilizer, a development Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito blamed in a separate interview for escalating fertilizer commodity prices.
Optichem is the only local company engaged in fertilizer granulation, with such other manufacturers as MFC engaged in blending of various fertilizer products. However, the capacity of Malawian companies remains low, prompting government to punch the gap up with foreign fertilizers.
Apart from chemical fertilizers, Optichem also manufactures organic manure.
“We manufacture manure because we want to be part of government’s efforts to mitigate climate change. The good thing about manure is that it retains soil fertility,” said Synoden.
Asked why the prices of locally-manufactured fertilizers were almost the same as those for imported fertilizer, Synoden said “this is not true because the price of locally-manufactured fertilizers is cheaper than that of imports”.
Said Synoden: “Prices for locally-manufactured fertilizers are much lower than those of foreign fertilizers. That is why we are saying that, if well-supported, local fertilizer manufacturing companies can help reduce fertilizer prices in the country. In fact, you will find that local-fertilizer prices are within the ranges of K7000 to K7,900 while some foreign fertilizers sell at as high as K10,000 .”
He said the other advantage is that locally-manufactured fertilizers are tailor-made to suit local climatic conditions. Synoden, therefore, asked Malawians to support local industries because they employ local people, do not externalize forex, and manufacture products that suit the local environment.
Speaking in a separate interview on progress in this year’s Fisp, Maganga said distribution work continues, and that most areas have since received farm inputs.
“Work is still going on. We want to make sure that all target beneficiaries receive the inputs in good time,” said Maganga.