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Fertilizer Shortages and Global Crises: A Threat to Farmers and Food Security

In recent years, the global agricultural landscape has been marred by a series of shocks, pushing farmers to the brink. A scarcity of affordable fertilizer, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the perils of climate change, has sent ripples through the world’s food supply chain. These events challenge the long-standing assumption that globalization is a safeguard against upheaval, as the global dependence on vital products from a handful of dominant suppliers becomes a recipe for widespread danger.

The war in Ukraine had far-reaching consequences, causing a reduction in grain exports from the region and driving staple prices, such as wheat, to unprecedented heights across the globe. Additionally, the impact of climate change, characterized by heatwaves, droughts, and floods, continues to threaten food production. However, it’s the combination of these challenges with the breakdown in fertilizer production that has hit farmers hard, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia.

Root Causes

The roots of this crisis can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the costs of transporting fertilizer ingredients. Subsequently, the war in Ukraine disrupted global grain and fertilizer markets. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve aggressively raised interest rates to combat domestic inflation, leading to a stronger U.S. dollar and making fertilizer components considerably more expensive in countries like Nigeria. According to a survey by ActionAid, since February 2022, fertilizer prices have more than doubled in Nigeria and 13 other countries.

The repercussions are alarming. In Nigeria alone, nearly 90 million people, roughly two-fifths of the nation, are experiencing “insufficient food consumption.” In the affected regions of Africa, a sense of bewilderment is palpable among farmers, traders, and fertilizer distributors. They are facing a grim reality, as they transition from high-value crops to less fertilizer-dependent ones, grapple with crop theft, and witness their families being torn apart as they struggle to access food.

As a response to skyrocketing prices for inorganic fertilizers, some farmers are switching to organic alternatives like animal manure, which have long-term benefits for soil quality. Nevertheless, organic fertilizers take years to match the yields achieved with commercial varieties, and, for now, inorganic fertilizers remain a vital source of essential nutrients like nitrogen and potassium.

The fertilizer industry is dominated by a handful of countries, including the United States, China, India, Russia, Canada, and Morocco. Nigeria, despite having several fertilizer factories, exports the majority of its production to South America, making the country highly vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions.

The global pandemic and the subsequent shipping disruptions have compounded the problem by raising shipping costs and contributing to delays. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia further strained the situation. Sanctions against Russia and Belarus raised energy prices, a key component of fertilizer production, and limited access to potash, another crucial nutrient. Many crops require a combination of these nutrients, making their scarcity even more damaging.


Some farmers who can afford fertilizer have seized the opportunity to increase their planting, gambling that their yields will command premium prices. They borrow money to purchase fertilizer and hope for a bountiful harvest that will allow them to repay their debts and invest in expanding their farms.

For those who cannot afford fertilizer, the situation is much bleaker. They face dwindling harvests, have nothing to sell for income, and must buy food at exorbitant prices. Many families are forced to make difficult choices, including pulling children out of school, as they struggle to cope with rising costs and food insecurity.

The impact of these compounding crises is enormous, as farmers who were once the backbone of their communities now find themselves grappling with hunger and despair. The world is witnessing the devastating consequences of a fragile global supply chain and the need for resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges. The crisis serves as a stark reminder that food security is a global concern that requires immediate attention and sustainable solutions.