Russian war exacerbates fertilizer crisis, puts food supply at risk

KIAMBU COUNTY, Kenya (AP) — Monica Kariyuki is set to quit farming. What’s driving him away from his 10 acres of land outside Nairobi isn’t bad weather, pests or blight—a traditional agricultural curse—but fertilizer: It costs too much.

Despite being thousands of miles away from Ukraine’s battlefields, Kariyuki and his cabbage, corn and spinach fields are indirect victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The war has driven up the price of natural gas, a key ingredient in fertilizer, and imposed severe sanctions against Russia, a major exporter of fertilizer.

Kariyuki used to spend 20,000 Kenyan shillings, or about $175, to fertilize his entire farm. Now, it has to cost five times as much. He said that by continuing to work on the land, nothing will be gained except loss.

“I cannot continue with the farming business. I am leaving farming to try something else,” she said.

High fertilizer prices are making the world’s food supply more expensive and less abundant, as farmers skimp on nutrients for their crops and yield lower yields. While the ripples will be felt by grocery shoppers in rich countries, the pressure on the food supply will be hit hardest by households in poor countries. It could hardly have come at a worse time: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said last week that its world food-price index in March rose to the highest level since it began in 1990.

Fertilizer shortages threaten to further limit food supplies around the world, already hampered by disruptions in vital grain shipments from Ukraine and Russia. The loss of those cheap supplies of wheat, barley and other grains increases the potential for food shortages and political instability in Middle Eastern, African and some Asian countries, where millions of people depend on subsidized bread and cheap noodles.

“Food prices will skyrocket as farmers make a profit, so what about consumers?” said Uche Anyanu, an agricultural expert at the University of Nigeria.

Aid group Action Aid has warned that families are already being driven “to the brink of existence” in the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations says that Russia is the world’s No. 1 exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and No. 2 in phosphorus and potassium fertilisers. Its ally Belarus, which is also opposed to Western sanctions, is another major fertilizer producer.

Many developing countries, including Mongolia, Honduras, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Mexico and Guatemala, depend on Russia for at least a fifth of their imports.

The conflict has also raised the already exorbitant price of natural gas, which is used to make nitrogen fertilizer. The result: European energy prices are so high that some fertilizer companies have “shut down their businesses and shut down their plants,” said David Labord, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

For Jackson Koeth, a 55-year-old corn and cabbage farmer from Eldoret in western Kenya, the struggle in Ukraine was distant and tangled until he had to decide whether to proceed with the planting season. Fertilizer prices have doubled compared to last year.

Koeth said he decided to continue planting, but only on half the acre from previous years. Yet he doubts he can make such an expensive profit with fertilizer.

“You have to search to find ammonia nitrate and the cost of fertilizing a 10-hectare (25-acre) olive grove doubled to 560 euros ($310),” said Dimitris Phyllis, a Greek farmer who grows olives, oranges and lemons When selling his wares at a farm market in Athens, he said most farmers are not planning on fertilizing their olive and orange trees this year.

“Many people will not use fertilizers at all, and as a result, the quality of production and production is reduced, and gradually, gradually to a point, they will no longer be able to cultivate their land because of the income,’ ‘ said Phyllis.

In China, potash – a potassium-rich salt used as fertilizer – costs 86% more than a year ago. Nitrogen fertilizer prices have risen by 39% and phosphorus fertilizers by 10%.

In the eastern Chinese city of Tai’an, the manager of a 35-family cooperative that grows wheat and corn said fertilizer prices have risen 40% since the beginning of the year.

“We can hardly make any money,” said the manager, who would only give his surname Zhao.

Terry Farms, which produces mass on 2,100 acres in Ventura, Calif., has seen prices of some fertilizer formulations double; The other 20% are up. Shifting fertilizers is risky, Vice President William Terry said, because the cheaper version may not “provide the crop needed as a food source.”

As the growing season approaches in Maine, potato farmers are grappling with a 70% to 100% increase in fertilizer prices over last year, depending on the mix.

“I think it’s going to be a very expensive crop, whether you’re putting everything from fertilizer to fuel, labor, electricity and everything else into the ground,” said Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board.

In Prudentopolis, a city in the Brazilian state of Paraná, farmer Edmilson Rikli shows a warehouse that is usually full of fertilizer bags, but only large enough to last a few more weeks. He worries that, with the war in Ukraine showing no signs of defeat, he will go without fertilizer when he sows wheat, barley and oats next month.

“The question is, where will Brazil buy more fertilizer?” They said. “We have to find other markets.”

Other countries are hoping to help fill in the gap. For example, Nigeria last month opened Africa’s largest fertilizer factory, and the $2.5 billion plant has already shipped fertilizers to the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Meanwhile, India is seeking more fertilizer imports from Israel, Oman, Canada and Saudi Arabia to make up for lost shipments from Russia and Belarus.

“If the supply crunch worsens, we will produce less,” said Kishor Rungta of the non-profit Fertilizer Association of India. “That’s why we need to look for options to get more fertilizer into the country.”

Agricultural firms are providing support for farmers, particularly in Africa where poverty often limits access to vital agricultural inputs. In Kenya, Apollo Agriculture is helping farmers gain access to fertilizer and finance.

“Some farmers are skipping the planting season and others are going into other ventures such as buying goats,” said firm co-founder Benjamin Nzenga. “So these support services go a long way for them.”

Governments are also helping. The US Department of Agriculture announced last month that it was releasing a $250 million grant to support US fertilizer production. The Swiss government has released a portion of its nitrogen fertilizer stock.

Still, there is no easy answer to the double whammy of high fertilizer prices and limited supplies. The next 12 to 18 months, food researcher La Borde said, “will be tough.”

Kathy Mathers of the Fertilizer Institute trade group said the market was “super, super tight” even before the war.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, growers are happy just getting fertilizer,” she said.

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Asadu reported from Lagos, Nigeria and Wiseman from Washington. Contributing to this story were: Tatiana Polastri in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Deborah Alvares in Brasilia, Brazil; Sheikh Salik in New Delhi; Lefteris Pitarakis in Athens; Jamie Keaton in Geneva; Joe McDonald and Yu Bing in Beijing; Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont; Dave Kolpak in Fargo, North Dakota; Cathia Martinez in Panama City; Christoph Knowling in Frankfurt; Fabiola Sanchez in Mexico City; Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; Tariq al-Barakah in Rabat, Morocco; Tasni Vejpongsa and Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok; Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem; Eddie Lederer at the United Nations; And Batrawi came to Dubai.

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