Ethiopia's first and biggest fertilizer blending factories in four regions are being constructed for 2014 crop season with a capacity of producing 250,000 tonnes.

by Dejazmch of Tigrai » Today, 19:38

In the past farmers in Ethiopia used to heavily depend mainly on two types of fertilizers to supplement the nutrient content of the soil. These are phosphorus in the form of Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and Nitrogen in the form of Urea. A standardized application of 100 kg of DAP and 100 kg of Urea has traditionally been recommended across the country for all crops and soil types. However, this recommendation fails to consider the current fertility status of a soils or specific crop needs. Since only DAP and Urea fertilizers are commercially available, their positive effect of stimulating crop growth also increases the rate of draw-dawn of native soil fertility including potassium. This in turn reduces soil fertility level of essential nutrients that may not be supplied by fertilization. Research and soil tests completed through the Ethiopian Soil Information System reveals that soils are deficient of various other nutrients that are not provided by DAP and Urea.
As part of the effort to address the problem researches were conducted by various stakeholders, including the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) which came up with a result that revealed the need for using potash containing fertilizers in many agricultural areas of the country. In order to help smallholder farmers to increase their crop production, ATA is facilitating a variety of soil related interventions in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and State Agricultural Bureaus. Some of these interventions include: geographical fertility mapping of the agricultural land, recommendation of relevant fertilizer application for each local woredas and the development of fertilizer blending facilities in big four states. The local blending plants will make an expanded range of soil nutrients available to farmers in field-level quantities, customized to their specific soil types, crops and agro-ecologies.
At the centre of the project, four fertilizer blending plants will be built in each of four main agricultural states. Each of the plants will be operated by selected farmers' cooperative union. These are Enderta, Merkeb, Becho Woliso and Makalle sites which are found in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples State (SNNPS) respectively. These four plants which will have a combined production capacity of nearly 250,000 tones per year, are expected to produce fertilizer which will be demanded for the 2014 crop season.
The new local blending plants are being designed and built to introduce the expanded range of soil nutrients to farmers. As the plants are being constructed and prepared to start production in 2014, a technical committee comprising experts from Ministry of agriculture, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and its regional counterparts has developed custom fertilizer formulas to be tested on soils. During the 2013 crop season, the effectiveness of these blended fertilizers will be demonstrated at 5,000 farmers’ training centres and on 50,000 farmers’ plots. These formulas will continue to be updated as more in-depth information becomes available and the needs of soil changes overtime.
In the long run, it is anticipated that each farmer will be able to use customized fertilizer to specific soil type to maximize crop yields. As part the effort made to start the production of blended fertilizers, Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) has made partnership with Canada-based Allana Potash Corporation.
Recently, ATA and Allana Potash Corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding( MoU) to produce a new high yield blended fertilizer and to demonstrate the use of potash and potassium rich mineral salt in the agricultural sector.
ATA Chief Executive Officer, Khalid Bomba said on the occasion that providing and popularizing a full range of soil nutrients to Ethiopian smallholder farmers is essential to help them realize the full production and profit potential from their farming lands. Accordingly, partnering with Allana is an ideal means to introduce and promote the benefits of potassium fertilizers among smallholder farmers, he added.
He said, “ Ethiopia's crop yield has been constrained by a very limited set of imported fertilizers. However, by blending fertilizer here in Ethiopia, smallholder farmers will not only have access to an expanded range of soil nutrients, but also will actually be able to request custom blended formulas tailored to their specific soil needs.” The new local blending plants are being designed and built to introduce this expanded range of nutrients on the plots of smallholder farmers, according to Khalid.
Allan Potash Corporation Senior Vice-President Nejib Abba Biya on his part said that the company is proud to contribute its share to the agricultural growth of Ethiopia. “The government of Ethiopia has provided support and encouragement to the Corporation during its developmental phase. So, it is in this light that Allana happily made partnership with ATA. A strong agricultural economy is a critical step in creating a robust national economy, one that Allana Potash considers vital to its future,” he said. Pursuant to the signing of the MoU and subject to certain condition, Allana, which is already developing Dallol Potash Project in the Ethiopian Danakil region has agreed to donate potash fertilizers estimated to be valued more than 300,00USD- 400,000 USD to the national fertilizer blending purpose. Prof. Tekalign Mamo, State Minister and Advisor to the Minster of Agriculture, said that agriculture has been the major driver of the economy and the sector that employs the majority of the workforce.
He said, “ unfortunately, until recently, agricultural productivity has not increased to levels to satisfy local demands. It is true that we have registered encouraging results in increasing production and productivity over the past few years, but we are still far from the targets. The reasons can be many, but the major ones are low or limited use of improved technologies, poor agronomic practice and the low fertility status of our soils.”
He said that in order to address poor land productivity and soil health issues, the government has embarked on a series of key strategies during the past few years. He explained that the massive efforts of rehabilitating degraded lands through community mobilization and ownership of the problem have not only helped to maintain ecosystem, but also helped hundreds of thousands of farmers to rip benefit from their efforts and satisfy their food demands. He also indicted land management strategies such as improved drainage of waterlogged soils and reclamation of acidic soils as among the key interventions made.
The other most important mechanism to address low land productivity is the use of blended fertilizers. In this respect the newly evolved national fertilizer blending programme was said to have brought positive results after a series of experimentation activities conducted over the past few years. The blending is made by local and international stakeholders who have special knowledge of the area, according to Prof. Tekalign.
As long as as the agriculture sector remains as the livelihood means of more than 85 per cent of the population, using all sorts of modern technology is essential to beat top most problem of the nation, i.e. poor agricultural productivity. The fertilizer blending project which is set to be put in place recently is believed to bring tangible results, as the blended fertilizer will be produced and used based on specific crop and soil demands unlike DAP and Urea. Blended fertilizer is customized to specific type of soils and crops as well. This helps to feed crops that Urea and DAP have not managed to nourish. And in the long run, instead of DAP and Urea, blended fertilizer shall be distributed to smallholder farmers which own farm lands with deficiency in some important nutrients. The government is expected to support the project as part of its five year plan to double the agricultural productivity.