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Agriculture

Russian war worsens fertilizer crunch, risking food supplies

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KIAMBU COUNTY, Kenya (AP) — Monica Kariuki is about ready to give up on farming. What is driving her off her 10 acres of land outside Nairobi isn’t bad weather, pests or blight — the traditional agricultural curses — but fertilizer: It costs too much.

Despite thousands of miles separating her from the battlefields of Ukraine, Kariuki and her cabbage, corn and spinach farm are indirect victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The war has pushed up the price of natural gas, a key ingredient in fertilizer, and has led to severe sanctions against Russia, a major exporter of fertilizer.

Kariuki used to spend 20,000 Kenyan shillings, or about $175, to fertilize her entire farm. Now, she would need to spend five times as much. Continuing to work the land, she said, would yield nothing but losses.

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

Higher fertilizer prices are making the world’s food supply more expensive and less abundant, as farmers skimp on nutrients for their crops and get lower yields. While the ripples will be felt by grocery shoppers in wealthy countries, the squeeze on food supplies will land hardest on families in poorer countries. It could hardly come at a worse time: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said last week that its world food-price index in March reached the highest level since it started in 1990.

The fertilizer crunch threatens to further limit worldwide food supplies, already constrained by the disruption of crucial grain shipments from Ukraine and Russia. The loss of those affordable supplies of wheat, barley and other grains raises the prospect of food shortages and political instability in Middle Eastern, African and some Asian countries where millions rely on subsidized bread and cheap noodles.

“Food prices will skyrocket because farmers will have to make profit, so what happens to consumers?’’ said Uche Anyanwu, an agricultural expert at the University of Nigeria.

The aid group Action Aid warns that families in the Horn of Africa are already being driven “to the brink of survival.’’

The U.N. says Russia is the world’s No. 1 exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and No. 2 in phosphorus and potassium fertilizers. Its ally Belarus, also contending with Western sanctions, is another major fertilizer producer.

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

The conflict also has driven up the already-exorbitant price of natural gas, used to make nitrogen fertilizer. The result: European energy prices so high that some fertilizer companies “have closed their businesses and stopped operating their plants,’’ said David Laborde, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

For corn and cabbage farmer Jackson Koeth, 55, of Eldoret in western Kenya, the conflict in Ukraine was distant and puzzling until he had to decide whether to go ahead with the planting season. Fertilizer prices had doubled from last year.

Koeth said he decided to keep planting but only on half the acreage of years past. Yet he doubts he can make a profit with fertilizer so costly.

Greek farmer Dimitris Filis, who grows olives, oranges and lemons, said “you have to search to find’’ ammonia nitrate and that the cost of fertilizing a 10-hectare (25-acre) olive grove has doubled to 560 euros ($310). While selling his wares at an Athens farm market, he said most farmers plan to skip fertilizing their olive and orange groves this year.

“Many people will not use fertilizers at all, and this as a result, lowers the quality of the production and the production itself, and slowly, slowly at one point, they won’t be able to farm their land because there will be no income,’’ Filis said.

In China, the price of potash — potassium-rich salt used as fertilizer — is up 86% from a year earlier. Nitrogen fertilizer prices have climbed 39% and phosphorus fertilizer is up 10%.

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

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

Terry Farms, which grows produce on 2,100 acres largely in Ventura, California, has seen prices of some fertilizer formulations double; others are up 20%. Shifting fertilizers is risky, vice president William Terry said, because cheaper versions might not give “the crop what it needs as a food source.”

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

“I think it’s going to be a pretty expensive crop, no matter what you’re putting in the ground, from fertilizer to fuel, labor, electrical and everything else,” said Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board.

In Prudentopolis, a town in Brazil’s Parana state, farmer Edimilson Rickli showed off a warehouse that would normally be packed with fertilizer bags but has only enough to last a few more weeks. He’s worried that, with the war in Ukraine showing no sign of letting up, he’ll have to go without fertilizer when he plants wheat, barley and oats next month.

“The question is: Where Brazil is going to buy more fertilizer from?” he said. “We have to find other markets.”

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

India, meanwhile, 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 shortage gets worse, we will produce less,” said Kishor Rungta of the nonprofit Fertiliser Association of India. “That’s why we need to look for options to get more fertilizers in the country.”

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

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

Governments are helping, too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last month that it was issuing $250 million in grants to support U.S. fertilizer production. The Swiss government has released part of its nitrogen fertilizer reserves.

Still, there’s no easy answer to the double whammy of higher fertilizer prices and limited supplies. The next 12 to 18 months, food researcher LaBorde said, “will be difficult.”

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

“Unfortunately, in many cases, growers are just happy to get fertilizer at all,’’ she said.

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Asadu reported from Lagos, Nigeria, and Wiseman from Washington. Contributing to this story were: Tatiana Pollastri in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Debora Alvares in Brasilia, Brazil; Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi; Lefteris Pitarakis in Athens; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Joe McDonald and Yu Bing in Beijing; Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont; Dave Kolpack in Fargo, North Dakota; Kathia Martínez in Panama City; Christoph Noelting in Frankfurt; Fabiola Sánchez in Mexico City; Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria; Tarik El-Barakah in Rabat, Morocco; Tassanee Vejpongsa and Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok; Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem; Edie Lederer at the United Nations; and Aya Batrawy in Dubai.

Geoffrey Kaviti, Chinedu Asadu And Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press

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Agriculture

Why are farmer protests sparking up around the world?

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From Michael Shellenberger on Substack

Dutch Farmers Revolt Against Green Elites

Even Mick Jagger is sympathetic

Zijn er ook boeren?” shouted Mick Jagger, in Dutch, into the microphone at a Rolling Stones concert in the Netherlands last week. “Are there any farmers in the house?”

Dutch farmers make for an unlikely cause célèbre. For starters, most are conservative, not liberal. And they are fighting against stricter environmental regulations, not for them.

Yet they are winning over liberal-minded people like me who sympathize with the family farmers who provide us with our daily bread and yet receive so little respect from society’s ruling elites.

And now they’re inspiring protests by other farmers across Europe, including in Germany, Poland and Italy. Along with the protests that brought down the government of Sri Lanka, they constitute a growing global revolt against green elites.

I have praised the current Dutch government for being sensible on matters like climate change. Last year it embraced nuclear energy, one of the first Western nations to do so since the 2011 Fukushima accident spooked the world.

But the government’s poor treatment of its farmers has shocked me. The prime minister recently called the protesting farmers “a – – holes,” and sniffed, “It is not acceptable to create dangerous situations.” And yet it was a Dutch police officer, not a farmer, who inexplicably fired on a 16-year-old boy driving a tractor. Luckily, he wasn’t injured.

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While nitrogen pollution worsens climate change, the government says its main motivation for reducing it is about protecting its nature areas. Scientists say that in 118 of 162 of the Netherlands’ nature preserves nitrogen deposits are 50% higher than they should be.

Without a doubt the Dutch should do more to protect their nature areas. The country produces four times more nitrogen pollution than the European average, due to its intensive animal agriculture.

The Netherlands is the largest exporter of meat in Europe and the second largest exporter of food overall after the United States, a remarkable feat for a nation half the size of Indiana. Food exports generate more than $100 billion a year in revenue. Experts attribute the nation’s success to its farmers’ embrace of technological innovation.

But even many on the political left say the government demands are too extreme, based on radical green fantasies and dodgy science. “It seems to be very fast,” saidWim de Vries, a professor at Wageningen University and Research who 10 years ago made alarmist claims about “planetary boundaries.”

What, exactly, is going on?

Michael Shellenberger is the author of “Apocalypse Never” and a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.”

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The situation in Sri Lanka is even more volatile where food shortages are already affecting 1 in 5 people and threatening the majority of the remaining population. The situation this week turned extremely dangerous as massive crowds forced the President to resign.  More on that below.

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This news article from The New Indian Express was published back on June 18.

Sri Lanka’s agriculture minister forced to flee premises after being jeered by farmers: Report

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera on Saturday was jeered by a group of farmers who protested his visit to an agriculture-related programme in Tissamaharama, a town situated in the country’s southern province in Hambantota district, forcing him to flee the premises.

Amaraweera visited the Tissamaharama Divisional Secretariat on Saturday to attend an agriculture-related programme.

Upon his arrival, a group of angry locals, consisting mostly of farmers, gathered opposite the local government body and staged a protest, according to web portal newsfirst.lk.

When the minister attempted to inquire, chaos broke out forcing the minister to flee the premises, the report added.

Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown has taken a severe toll on the agricultural sector.

A blanket ban on the use of chemical fertilisers imposed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April 2021 has caused a crippling blow to rice production in the country.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has predicted that by September this year, around four to five million out of the country’s 22 million population could be directly affected by food shortage.

In such a grim scenario, farmers across the island nation have been forced to abandon their fields.

Earlier this week, the Cabinet also approved a move to grant government officials one leave per week for the next three months to engage in agriculture to mitigate the approaching food crisis.

The Sri Lanka Army will also take part in a farming drive aimed at cultivating over 1,500 acres of barren or abandoned state land to multiply food production and avert any shortage in the future, newsfirst.lk reported.

Sri Lanka which is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

The economic crisis has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas, fuel and toilet paper, with Sri Lankans being forced to wait in lines for hours outside stores to buy fuel and cooking gas.

The nearly bankrupt country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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This report from Aljazeera dated March 30, 2022 shows how this hunger crisis has been brewing for months.

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This week massive crowds stormed the Presidential Secretariat and then the Presidential House resulting in the President leaving the country and stepping down.

Here’s a report on the fall of the government from Sky News

 

 

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Agriculture

Anger simmers for Dutch farmers who oppose pollution cuts

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By Mike Corder in Maasland

MAASLAND, Netherlands (AP) — Bales of hay lie burning along Dutch highways. Supermarket shelves stand empty because distribution centers are blocked by farmers. Then, at dusk, a police officer pulls his pistol and shoots at a tractor.

Dutch farmers are embroiled in a summer of discontent that shows no sign of abating. Their target? Government plans to rein in emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia that they say threatens to wreck their agricultural way of life and put them out of business.

The reduction targets could radically alter the Netherlands‘ lucrative agriculture sector, which is known for its intensive farming, and may also foreshadow similar reforms — and protests — in other European nations whose farmers also pump out pollutants.

That turmoil seems a long way off Friday at Jaap Zegwaard’s dairy farm, which occupies 80 hectares (200 acres) of grassland close to the port city of Rotterdam, whose chimneys and cranes form a backdrop to his fields.

Most of Zegwaard’s herd of 180 cattle, mostly black and white Holstein-Friesians, graze in meadows close to a traditional Dutch windmill and large white wind turbines. And even if the farm has been in Zegwaard’s family for five generations, some 200 years, he doesn’t know if he would recommend the farming life to his a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys.

“If you ask me now, I’d say, please don’t even think about it,” the 41-year-old said. “There are so many worries. Life’s much too beautiful to deal with what’s going on in the agriculture sector at the moment.”

“Ask the average farmer: it’s profoundly sad,” he said.

At the heart of the clash between farmers and the Dutch government are moves to protect human health and vulnerable natural habitats from pollution in the form of nitrogen oxides and ammonia, which are produced by industry, transport and in the waste of livestock.

The Netherlands, a nation of 17.5 million people inhabiting an area a little larger than Maryland, has 1.57 million registered dairy cattle and just over 1 million calves being raised for meat, statistics show. The country’s farms produced exports worth 94.5 billion euros in 2019.

Nitrogen oxides and ammonia raise nutrient levels and acidity in the soil, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. Airborne nitrogen leads to smog and tiny particles that are damaging to people’s health.

When the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court and legislative advisory body, ruled in 2019 that Dutch policies to rein in nitrogen emissions were inadequate, it forced the government to consider tougher measures.

Unveiling a map detailing nitrogen reduction targets last month, the Dutch government called it an “unavoidable transition.” It said the coming year would finally bring clarity for Dutch farmers, “whether and how they can continue with their business. The minister sees three options for farmers: become (more) sustainable, relocate or stop.”

The Dutch government aims to slash nitrogen emissions by 50% by 2030 and has earmarked an extra 24.3 billion euros ($25.6 billion) to fund the changes. Provincial authorities have one year to draw up plans for achieving the reductions.

Nitrogen expert Wim de Vries, a professor at Wageningen University and Research, doubts that deadline is realistic.

“It seems to be very fast and there is a legacy, already for 40 years, because the problem was much bigger in the 1980s. We then called it ‘acid rain,’” he said. “Considering that legacy, it doesn’t make so much difference if we do it in 7 or 10 or 12 years. We anyhow have to wait for decades for nature to improve seriously.”

Farmers have been protesting for years against the government’s nitrogen policies, but the emissions targets unleashed new demonstrations, with tractors clogging highways and supermarket distribution centers that led briefly to some shortages of fresh produce.

Farmers also clashed with police outside the home of the minister in charge of the government’s nitrogen policies. And this week an officer opened fire on a tractor driven by a 16-year-old. After initially being held on suspicion of attempted manslaughter, the young driver was released without charge.

The Dutch government has appointed a veteran political negotiator to act as a middleman, but the gesture was immediately rejected by activist farmers and the nation’s largest farming lobby group.

“The government does not offer any space to enter into a real conversation,” said the farming lobby group LTO. “Under these conditions, speaking with the mediator is pointless.”

The LTO, which represents about 30,000 farms — nearly a half of the Dutch total — described the nitrogen reduction target as “simply unfeasible.” Dutch farms produced exports worth 94.5 billion euros in 2019.

The group says the government is focused on reducing livestock and buying up farms and not paying enough attention to innovation and sustainable farming practices.

Environmentalists say now is the time to act.

“You rip a plaster off a wound in one go,” said Andy Palmen, director of Greenpeace Netherlands. “Painful choices are now necessary.”

Zegwaard’s farm is in an area where the government is seeking only a 12% cut in emissions, yet he also demonstrates out of solidarity with others and supports the protests.

“The average person currently sees the Netherlands as a nitrogen polluter, while we are also a food producer. It seems like people have forgotten that,” he told The Associated Press.

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Follow all AP stories on climate change issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.

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