Organic fertilizers flood market: farmers at risk of being duped

Malawi organic fertilizer

…farmers advised to make their own fertilizer or buy from credible producers

Though the country is yet to have standards for commercial organic fertilizer production, the farm input has already flooded local markets and farmers who plan to escape the soaring chemical fertilizer prices have been urged to buy and use these organic fertilizers with caution.

Following the rise in prices of chemical fertilizers induced by the Russia-Ukraine war and the devaluation of the Kwacha, most Malawian entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the surge to venture into commercial organic fertilizer production.

Prices monitored on social media platforms where some manufacturers are advertising, an attractive and well-packaged 50kgs bag of basal organic fertilizers is selling at K30,000, while a 50kgs bag of top-dressing organic fertilizers is selling at K32,000, thus on average.

This is more cheaper compared to a 50kgs bag of NPK fertilizers which as of 5th November, 2023 was selling at more than K55,000 while a 50kgs of Urea was selling at not less than K65,000, but the prices are likely to go up because the Malawian Kwacha has on 8th November, 2023 lost value against the United States Dollar, but also because of high demand as the farming season is finally here.

The soaring chemical fertilizer prices will definitely be a temptation to most smallholder farmers across the country to turn to organic alternatives which are said to be affordable.

Thomas Chifunga from Bvumbwe in Thyolo whom we met at one of the organic fertilizer dealers in Limbe, Blantyre, said: “This is my first time to go for these organic fertilizers just because this year I have failed to source K65,000 for chemical fertilizers and I have never been AIP beneficiary, that’s why we have met here and unfortunately, the organic fertilizer is out of stock in this shop.”

Agriculture expert Dr Tamani Nkhono Mvula encouraged Malawian smallholder farmers to use organic fertilizer saying apart from adding nutrients to the soil, they have got also additional benefits like improving the soil structure, and also being friendly to the environment.

Dr Nkhono Mvula said apart from being affordable, organic fertilizers which are made by mixing agricultural wastes, animal wastes, industrial wastes and of course some chemical fertilizer in other scenarios, offer farmers a huge opportunity in as far as having an alternative to inorganic fertilizers is concerned.

“First of all, we need to understand that when we are talking about organic fertilizers, we are purely talking about manure and manure is something that most farmers have been using for quite some time. These organic fertilizers, apart from adding nutrients to the soil they have got so many benefits like improving the soil structure, just to mention one,” explained Dr Nkhono Mvula.

However, he said farmers should be cautioned on buying organic fertilizers in local markets claiming they are likely to be cheated by the producers as currently the country does not have standards for this farm input and added that no any product has been certified this far.

“The challenge that we have currently is that most of these organic fertilizers are not certified. So, it’s very easy for farmers to be cheated on organic fertilizers, because if these are not certified, they have not been taken to the lab, to be certified, but also to ensure that the amount of nutrients in them are certified. It offers a huge challenge to farmers.

“Farmers may end up not getting what they wanted, but also they are at the end of the day destroying their fields because the contents of these organic fertilizers, most of them, if not all of them have not been yet certified. Currently, we don’t have standards for organic fertilizers,” he cautioned farmers.

Concurring with Mvula was another expert, Dr Kingdom Kwapata who said farmers planning to buy these organic fertilizers on the market, faces the risk of being duped arguing since they are not certified, a farmer may not be sure whether what they are adding in the soil is nitrogen, phosphorus or something else.

Dr Kwapata who is also a Biotechnology Research Scientist hinted on the need for authorities to expedite the process of having standards on organic fertilizers production claiming that’s the only solution to deal with the threat that more farmers may be cheated by manufacturers.

“These organic fertilizers have mushroomed on the market as a result of desperation by farmers after failing to buy chemical fertilizers which are now very expensive and with our country’s lack of forex, we are also finding it difficult to import the same.

“Entrepreneurs­ have become very enterprising and innovative in producing this. But now our government regulatory systems be it the Malawi Bureau Standards or any other competent body that is able to certify the authenticity of these organic fertilizer, is very important because some scrupulous vendors are going to take advantage and be selling people dead. Dead that is literally dark in colour and claiming it is organic fertilizer.

“So, this is definitely going to put farmers at risk. We needed to have a standardization and regulatory authority for monitoring, accrediting and ensuring that the produce that is on the market is certified. This is not the case at the moment and obviously the farmer will be at risk. But it is because of desperation of the farmer that they are forced to buy this without taking other precautions,” said Dr Kwapata.

Kwapata has since advised farmers who are planning to buy and use organic fertilizers to make sure that they are purchasing these bags of organic fertilizers from trusted and traceable producers where they can go back and launch a complaint in an event that it does not work.

“The manufacturers or people selling them must be trusted. You must have some historical background information as to whether they have been doing this and if you can get some testimonies from others who have purchased the same, it will be helpful. I can personally give farmers credible manufacturers who are doing this so that they are not disappointed,” he added.

Our efforts to find out how far the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) has gone in setting standards for the commercial production of organic fertilizer and its certification, proved futile as the bureau through the spokesperson Monica Khombe did not to our questionnaire despite several reminders.

However, Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale recently wrote on his Facebook page saying the ministry and some development partners have been researching and developing different combinations of organic fertilizer which he said was done in line with implementation guidelines of the new Fertilizer Act which was passed earlier this year.

Kawale further reported that MBS will in the next four months be finalizing standards for commercial organic fertilizers and indicated that they are handling it under ISO 17065 – product certification and further mentioned DMS 1084:2021, Solid organic fertilizer – Specification and DMS 1870:2022, Compost – Specification as the draft standards.

In the same Facebook post, the minister encouraged farmers to make their own organic fertilizer (not buying from markets) using the Mbeya formula which involves rough mixing 20kgs of animal dung, 20kgs of maize bran, 10kgs of ash, 10kgs of chemical fertilizer and 5 litres of water.

He said after that, the mixture should be poured into a sack bag with plastic paper inside, kept for 3 weeks and later dried in the shade.

He further said a mixture with NPK means the product is basal dressing organic fertilizer, while a mixture with UREA, produces top dressing organic fertilizer.


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