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Fertilizers, hybrid seeds on the market not profitable – study

Buying fertilizers and seeds from local market may not realise the best returns

Using fertilizers and highbrid seeds bought from the local market in Uganda does not necessarily lead to a leap in harvest, a 2015 study has found.

Titled, Low quality, low returns, and low value: evidence from the market for fertilizer and hybrid seed in Uganda, the study says “more than 80 per cent of the fertilizer samples bought in local markets were not profitable”, perhaps the reason why farmers may find it difficult to adopt usage of fertilizers in farming.

The study, done by International Growth Centre (IGC) directed by the London School of Economics, University of Oxford, and funded by UKaid, will be launched today at Protea hotel in Kampala.

“Poor-quality inputs appear to be the norm in the local retail markets we surveyed, and adoption of modern inputs with average retail quality is not profitable,” says the report. “The rate of return of using authentic fertilizer and hybrid seed is large,” the study adds.

About 129 local retail shops in two of the main maize-growing regions of Uganda were surveyed. Some 369 samples of urea fertilizer were purchased at 30 such shops. Also, 30 samples of branded hybrid seed of the predetermined type were bought using a covert shopper approach. When they were tested, their quality was found inadequate.

The study found fertilizers bought on the local market missing 30 per cent of nutrient while the hybrid maize seed sold in local shops contained less than 50 per cent authentic seeds.

“We document that such low quality results in negative average returns. If authentic technologies replaced these low-quality products, average returns for smallholder farmers would be over 50 per cent.”

Poor-quality inputs appear to be the norm in the local retail markets surveyed and adoption of modern inputs with average retail quality is not profitable, the study says.

The study says the “results suggest that one reason smallholder farmers do not adopt fertilizer and hybrid seed is [they are] simply not profitable, and this ultimately hampers agricultural productivity.”

Low quality of fertilizers and hybrid seeds in market could be due to various factors, including adulteration, poor storage and inappropriate handling procedures. The study also says anecdotal evidence suggest that adulteration, by bulking out fertilizer or dyeing simple grain to look like hybrid seeds, is common in Uganda, although more research is needed to determine if this is the case.

A survey by the Makerere-based Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) recently showed that Uganda’s soils had been depleted and could not support any increase in productivity - yet use of fertilisers was very low.

“Only eight in one hundred farm households use inorganic fertilisers and about 26 out of 100 households use organic fertilisers in crop production,” said the 2012 study. 

“Fertiliser use is impacted on by access to support services e.g. extension, irrigation and credit. It is also affected by ownership of assets such as stores, livestock and poultry [which puts most Ugandan farmers out].”

Some farmers who have received seeds from government’s Operation Wealth Creation programme have complained of their poor quality and failure to germinate at some instances.

Last month, some farmers through their umbrella body, Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF- Uganda), urged government to help them preserve and use local seeds to avoid counterfeits flooding the local seeds market.

The IGC study is an indicator that even if more Ugandans used fertilizers or improved seeds bought on the local market, they would still not realise the required returns because of poor quality. 

“[There is] need to identify ways to substantially increase the quality of basic agricultural technologies available to smallholder farmers,” the study says.


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