Food Security

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 1479–1500 | Cite as

Constraints in the fertilizer supply chain: evidence for fertilizer policy development from three African countries

  • Todd BensonEmail author
  • Tewodaj Mogues
Original Paper


Increased use of inorganic fertilizer in smallholder farming systems can significantly raise crop productivity, enabling farming households to improve their food security both directly, through greater food supply, and indirectly, though higher agricultural incomes, and to set themselves economically on a pathway out of poverty. Low fertilizer use by African smallholder farming households is evidence of the difficulties they face in accessing the commercial input at a price that will allow them to obtain sufficient and reliable returns from their investment. This paper presents the results of a broad study of fertilizer supply to smallholder farmers in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda to assess whether costs faced at various points along the import and marketing chain, or the absence of key public goods and services, reduce the access that smallholder farmers have to fertilizer. The study involved a mixed methods approach that included for each country a review of the literature on fertilizer supply, demand, and use; interviews with key participants in fertilizer import and marketing; and two surveys – one with farmers and one with input suppliers. We found that the governments of the three countries have used distinct approaches in developing or regulating the fertilizer sub-sector. Based on use levels, Tanzania has been the most successful in ensuring access to fertilizer for its farmers. Mozambique lags the most. Several areas were identified where government inaction or misdirected efforts are having an adverse effect on efforts to increase agricultural productivity through the increased use of inorganic fertilizer. The most important constraints to increased fertilizer uptake stem from missing public goods that are not specific to inorganic fertilizer but are implicated in broad efforts to increase rural economic growth, particularly in continuing to expand and deepen crop output markets to ensure reliable returns to the use of fertilizer and in improving rural transportation networks. In addition, the three governments can do more to foster competitive agricultural input markets. All propose more state regulation on trade in inorganic fertilizer than is warranted. Moreover, particularly in Tanzania, by not consistently acting in line with policies for agricultural commercialization in place, government increases the commercial risks faced by both input suppliers and farmers and undermines the development of vibrant agricultural markets, both for inputs and outputs, including food.


Agricultural inputs Inorganic fertilizer Agricultural market development Soil fertility management Mozambique Tanzania Uganda 



Our collaborators in the three study countries for the research presented in this paper were Benedito Cunguara in Mozambique; Stephen L. Kirama and Onesmo Selejio in Tanzania; and Patrick Lubega, Stephen Bayite-Kasule, and Julian Nyachwo in Uganda. We are grateful for the insights, engagement, and professionalism of these research partners. Parts of this paper are drawn directly from country-specific case study reports that were co-authored with these colleagues (see Benson et al. 2012a, b, c). Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that was managed by Dr. Augustine Langyintuo. Our thanks to him and to AGRA.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest related to the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


  1. Barbier, E. B. (2004). Explaining agricultural land expansion and deforestation in developing countries. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 86(5), 1347–1353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Benson, T., Cunguara, B., & Mogues, T. (2012a). The Supply of Inorganic Fertilizers to Smallholder Farmers in Mozambique: Evidence for Fertilizer Policy Development. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper 01229. Washington, DC: IFPRI.Google Scholar
  3. Benson, T., Kirama, S. L., & Selejio, O. (2012b). The Supply of Inorganic Fertilizers to Smallholder Farmers in Tanzania: Evidence for Fertilizer Policy Development. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper 01230. Washington, DC: IFPRI.Google Scholar
  4. Benson, T., Lubega, P., Bayite-Kasule, S., Mogues, T., & Nyachwo, J. (2012c). The Supply of Inorganic Fertilizers to Smallholder Farmers in Uganda: Evidence for Fertilizer Policy Development. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper 01228. Washington, DC: IFPRI.Google Scholar
  5. Bold, T., Kaizzi, K., Svensson, J., & Yanagizawa-Drott, D. (2015). Low quality, Low Returns, Low Adoption: Evidence from the Market for Fertilizer and Hybrid Seed in Uganda. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Faculty Research Working Paper Series No. RWP15–033. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  6. Carter, M. R., Laajaj, R., & Yang, D. (2013). The impact of voucher coupons on the uptake of fertilizer and improved seeds: Evidence from a randomized trial in Mozambique. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 95(5), 1345–1351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chemonics International Inc. and IFDC (International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development). (2007). Fertilizer Supply and Costs in Africa. Report for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Washington, DC: Chemonics.Google Scholar
  8. Cooksey, B. (2011). Marketing reform? The rise and fall of agricultural liberalisation in Tanzania. Development Policy Review, 29(s1), s57–s81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Duflo, E., Kremer, M., & Robinson, J. (2011). Nudging farmers to use fertilizer: Theory and experimental evidence from Kenya. American Economic Review, 101(6), 2350–2390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fafchamps, M. (1992). Cash crop production, food price volatility, and rural market integration in the third world. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 74(1), 90–99.Google Scholar
  11. Fairbairn, A., Michelson, H., Ellison, B., & Manyong, V. (2016). Mineral fertilizer quality: Implications for markets and small farmers in Tanzania. Working paper prepared for 2016 AAEA annual meeting. Boston: August 2016. Retrieved from
  12. Hernandez, M. A., & Torero, M. (2013). Market concentration and pricing behavior in the fertilizer industry: A global approach. Agricultural Economics, 44(6), 723–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Howard, J., Crawford, E., Kelly, V., Demeke, M., & Jeje, J. J. (2003). Promoting high-input maize technologies in Africa: The Sasakawa-global 2000 experience in Ethiopia and Mozambique. Food Policy, 28, 335–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jama, B., Kimani, D., Harawa, R., Mavuthu, A. K., & Sileshi, G. W. (2017). Maize yield response, nitrogen use efficiency and financial returns to fertilizer on smallholder farms in southern Africa. Food Security, 9(3), 577–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Karlan, D., Kutsoati, E., McMillan, M., & Udry, C. (2011). Crop price indemnified loans for farmers: A pilot experiment in rural Ghana. Journal of Risk and Insurance, 78(1), 37–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Karlan, D., Osei, R., Osei-Akoto, I., & Udry, C. (2014). Agricultural decisions after relaxing credit and risk constraints. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129(2), 597–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mapila, M. A. T. J., Njuki, J., Delve, R. J., Zingore, S., & Matibini, J. (2012). Determinants of fertilizer use by smallholder maize farmers in the Chinyanja triangle in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Agrekon, 51(1), 21–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Matsumoto, T., & Yamano, T. (2011). Optimal fertilizer use on maize production in East Africa. In T. Yamano, K. Otsuka, & F. Place (Eds.), Emerging Development of Agriculture in East Africa. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. Mwinuka, L., Mutabazi, K. D., Graef, F., Sieber, S., Makindara, J., Kimaro, A., & Uckert, G. (2017). Simulated willingness of farmers to adopt fertilizer micro-dosing and rainwater harvesting technologies in semi-arid and sub-humid farming systems in Tanzania. Food Security, 9(6), 1237–1253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Okoboi, G., & Barungi, M. (2012). Constraints to fertilizer use in Uganda: Insights from Uganda census of agriculture 2008/9. Journal of Sustainable Development, 5(10), 99–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Omamo, SW. (2003). Fertilizer trade and pricing in Uganda. Agrekon, 42(4), 310–324.Google Scholar
  22. Reinhardt, N., & Herrmann, L. (2017). Fusion of indigenous knowledge and gamma spectrometry for soil mapping to support knowledge-based extension in Tanzania. Food Security, 9(6), 1271–1284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ricker-Gilbert, J., Jayne, T. S., & Chirwa, E. (2011). Subsidies and crowding out: A double-hurdle model of fertilizer demand in Malawi. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 93(1), 26–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sadras, V. O., Cassman, K. G., Grassini, P., Hall, A. J., Bastiaanssen, W. G. M., Laborte, A. G., Milne, A. E., Sileshi, G., & Steduto, P. (2015). Yield gap analysis of field crops: Methods and case studies. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Google Scholar
  25. Tukacungurwa, C. (1994). A Review on the Use of Fertilizers in Uganda. Export policy analysis and development unit. Kampala: Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.Google Scholar
  26. Zandemela, CB. (2011). Estratégia e Sistema de Regulamentação de Fertilizantes em Moçambique (A Strategy and Fertilizer Regulatory System for Mozambique). Working draft of July 2011, prepared for Direcção Nacional de Serviços Agrários (DNSA), Ministério da Agricultura (MINAG), República de Moçambique. Maputo: MINAG.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. and International Society for Plant Pathology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Development Strategy and Governance DivisionInternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)Washington DCUSA

Personalised recommendations