Ghana’s fertiliser subsidy programme (FSP) will deliver better results if implemented in tandem with other interventions that target raising soil fertility and developing agribusiness market structures, two sets of study have confirmed.
The two studies meant for evidence-based policy intervention and sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) indicated that Ghana’s soil fertiliser had been getting poorer over the years and until the soil pH was improved, the fertiliser application would not yield the required benefits.
“When the soil fertility gets lower, you cannot use fertiliser alone as the solution. You need to simultaneously do other things as well, such as dealing with the quality of soil fertility. This is because low quality soil has low response rate to fertiliser application,” the Country Programme Manager for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr Kolavalli Shashidhara, said.
Soil Fertility Management
He was presenting findings of a research on Soil Fertility Management in Ghana at a workshop to disseminate the findings of the above study. The workshop also saw the dissemination of results of a study on the ‘the Impact of the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme on the Economy of Ghana’.
The USAID through its Feed the Future initiative sponsored the studies to support the Ministry of Finance to have evidence to support its fiscal interventions, particularly in developing the agricultural value chain.
The research was to demonstrate that the fertiliser subsidy only reduced the cost of the input but the programme must also look at what the country was getting from the use of the fertiliser.
In effect, the country will get more from the fertiliser if used along with good varieties that respond to the fertiliser application. This means that when the condition of the soil degrades over a period of time, the response to the fertiliser will be low.
Dr Shashidhara said the country should, as a matter of necessity, take steps to improve soil fertility through interventions such as the combined application of organic and inorganic fertilisers, as the study found only 1.8 per cent of farmers studied applied both.
The soil fertility study also recommended stock taking of the country’s soil fertility to identify site-specific nature of the soil challenges in order to deploy specific actions. For instance, when the soil lacks only nitrogen or two micro-nutrients (say nitrogen and potassium) there was no need to apply the common fertiliser types which contained three micro-nutrients.
The IFPRI study also recommended that the government should invite tenders for ‘solutions’ and not tenders for specific products such as fertilisers, because the soil quality is not the same across the country.
“You will have to make that part of the exercise rather than making a blanket recommendation, you need to be able to say, here is extension need so you need to test the soil on the basis of which to recommend what fertiliser to use,” Dr Shashidhara stated.
He added that fertiliser suppliers could also be made to develop area-specific fertiliser solutions, rather than uniform products for the entire country.
Impact of the FSP
Ghana started a fertiliser subsidy programme (FSP) in 2008 during which the rate and adoption of fertiliser application by farmers has increased. While adoption rate has increased appreciably, application has improved moderately from 8kg per hectare to an average of 12kg/ha.
This has helped to moderately scaled yields from an average of 2.0 tonnes/ha to 2.5 tonnes/ha between 2008 and 2015.
Having subsidised the product to the tune of GH¢341 million, the sustainability became a challenge, leading to the government’s withdrawal from the programme in 2014, returning to do it only partially in 2014.
An Agric Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Dr Irene Egyir, who did the presentation on the Impact of the FSP, called for a sustainability plan for the programme which would include an exit strategy.
That was to forestall the distortions it caused in the market, restricting private importers from expanding their businesses due to delayed payments.
That should include training farmers to improve their skills and other players in the value chain, while the extension officers should be trained to improve their understanding of the programme, hence their monitoring.