Inorganic fertilizer is one of a handful of agricultural technologies that have immense potential for raising the productivity of poor smallholders, enabling them to increase income, accumulate assets, and set themselves economically on a pathway out of poverty. The very low prevalence of fertilizer use by Mozambican farmers—below five percent—is evidence that farmers find it difficult to access fertilizers for their crops at a price that will allow them to obtain sufficient and reliable returns from their investment in fertilizer.
This paper presents the results of a broad study of fertilizer supply to smallholder farmers in Mozambique that was done to assess whether the taxes (explicit or implicit) that are applied at various points along the fertilizer importation and marketing chain, or the absence of key public goods and services, reduces the access that smallholder farmers have to fertilizer. The study involved a review of the literature of fertilizer supply, demand, and use; interviews with key participants in fertilizer importation and marketing in Mozambique; and two surveys—one with farmers and the other with input suppliers—in two farming areas where more fertilizer is used than is the norm for the country as a whole.
The government of Mozambique has adopted a generally hands-off approach in engaging with efforts to improve farmer access to fertilizer. Private-sector investment decisions drive the development of input markets, with government primarily having somewhat distant oversight. Fertilizer costs are high in Mozambique relative to costs in other coastal countries in Africa. Efforts are being started to strengthen the retail sector of agricultural inputs by better understanding the information and management needs of agricultural input retailers, but much work is still required in this regard.
However, given the problematic economics of fertilizer use by smallholders in Mozambique, the prospects for sharp increases in fertilizer use in the future are certainly much murkier there than elsewhere in Africa. Nonetheless, government can take two fertilizer-specific initiatives to accelerate use of fertilizer in Mozambique by smallholders:
- Overcoming information constraints that smallholder farmers who might use fertilizer face. This includes both information on the proper agronomic use of the appropriate types of fertilizer on specific crops under specific agroecological conditions and information on the proper economic use of fertilizer under changing input and output market conditions so that farmers can derive reliable profits from their use of the technology.
- Regulatory reform. The fertilizer regulations currently being proposed for Mozambique, if comprehensively implemented, would be a poor fit for the public benefits sought through the regulations. A considerably lighter regulatory regime would allow more fertilizer into Mozambique, resulting in lower costs for farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture should be judicious in its implementation of this legislation. Efforts to assure the quality of fertilizers in open and competitive markets are best achieved through self-regulation processes tied to sufficient information on product quality for farmers and ample choice in suppliers, rather than through heavy regulation and costly enforcement.