FERTILIZER A PUBLIC OR PRIVATE GOOD IN AFRICA? AN OPINION PIECE
H. Gladwin, Alan Randall, Andrew Schmitz, and G. Edward Schuh
Traditionally, fertilizer has been treated by economists as a private,
not public, good.  Soil scientist Pedro Sanchez
and researchers associated with the International Center for
Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF), however, claim that ICRAF's
agroforestry innovations should be adopted by African farmers
as an inexpensive way to replenish their depleted soils.
"Replenishing soil fertility" is important because
it is the number-one natural resource in Africa currently
being depleted: the nutrient capital of African countries
is being mined, just like mineral deposits of metals or fossil
Soil fertility depletion on smallholder farms is the fundamental
biophysical root cause of declining per-capita food production
in Africa. Society as well as farmers must invest in
soil fertility as a form of natural capital.
depletion in Africa has both private, on-farm costs (e.g.,
decreased crop production, increased soil erosion) and public,
national, even global costs. These include: decreased
national food security, exacerbated rural poverty, increased
migration to urban areas, increased urban unemployment and
social unrest. Public costs also include: increased
stream sedimentation, decreased water quality, loss of soil
carbon to the atmosphere, loss of adjacent forests, and decreasing
biodiversity (as land extensification occurs).
Replenishing Africa's soils is possible, however, on the high phosphorous
fixing soils of Africa. For an estimated 530 million
hectares, phosphorus-fixation is now considered as an asset
and not a liability as previously thought.  Inorganic
fertilizers are absolutely necessary to overcome phosphorus
(P) depletion on these soils. Large applications of
phosphorus fertilizer can become ‘P capital’ as
sorbed or fixed P, almost like a savings account, because
most P sorbed is slowly desorbed back into the soil
solution over 5-10 years. The larger the application
rate, the longer the residual effect. If phosphorus
is applied as a one time application of phosphate rock, the
decomposition of organic inputs that produce organic acids
which acidify the phosphate rock (e.g., the organic acids
in Tithonia diversifolia, a common shrub in W. Kenya)
can assist in desorbing P.
To reverse nutrient depletion of nitrogen, however, Africa needs a combination
of inorganic fertilizer, biological nitrogen fixation technologies,
biomass transfers of organic matter into the field, animal
manure/compost, and/or trees whose deep roots capture nutrients
from subsoil depths beyond the reach of crop roots (nutrients
are transferred to the topsoil via decomposition of tree litter).
Subsoil nitrate accumulation is not significant in all soil
types, but it is in Nitisols and similar soils, which comprise
260 million hectares in Africa.
Can nitrogen demands be met biologically? Yes, to produce mid-range
yields of 4 tons/ha of food crops such as maize. But
to produce higher yields of food crops of 6 tons/ha, combinations
of organic and inorganic fertilizers are needed (recovery
by crop of nitrogen from leaves of leguminous plants is lower,
10-30%, than recovery from nitrogen fertilizers, 20-40%).
ICRAF's solution to soil fertility depletion involves replacing
phosphorus lost over the last 20 years on these Nitisols by
importing Minjingu phosphate rock from Tanzania. Nitrogen
lost over the last 20 years will be replaced with nitrogen
from agroforestry innovations (such as hedgerow intercropping
with Leucaena, biomass transfer with Tithonia,
manures improved with Calliandra, and improved fallow
systems using N2-fixing shrubs like Sesbania
sesban, Tephrosia vogelii, Gliricidia sepium, and Cajanus
cajan). How to pay for this one-time application
of phosphate rock? Because there are national and global
benefits to farmers' use of fertilizer in Africa, national
and global institutions should also share the costs.
OPINIONS ABOUT SOIL FERTILITY REPLENISHMENT
What do agricultural economists have to say about this issue of the public
benefits to private fertilizer use? To show both the
diversity and consensus in their thinking, I first present
my own opinions about this possible solution to the soil fertility
depletion problem in Africa, given the results of our five-year
"Gender and Soil Fertility in Africa" project.
The reactions of three esteemed fellows of the American Association
of Agricultural Economists (AAEA) given at the 1997 AAEA meetings
in Toronto, Canada, follow.
Comments by Christina Gladwin
In 1987 I was part of a Robert Nathan team sent to Malawi to consult
on the removal of fertilizer subsidies. I have not been
the same since. As the two-month mission unfolded and
I interviewed many farmers in three districts of Malawi about
what they would do if fertilizer subsidies were removed, it
became clear that fertilizer prices would increase, the quantity
of fertilizer used would decrease (in line with micro-economic
theory), and the quantity of maize produced per hectare --
by individual farmers and in the aggregate -- would also decrease.
Farmers would use more land-extensification strategies rather
than land-intensification strategies, switching from hybrid
maize to local maize production because local maize did not
require as much fertilizer to produce. The risk
of hunger for individual households would also increase, because
farmers in Malawi, accustomed to applying chemical fertilizers
since the 1960s, did not operate enough land to be food self-sufficient.
Furthermore, they could no longer apply animal manures as
a substitute for chemical fertilizers, due to lack of grazing
land and child labor to care for the animals. Hence
with the removal of fertilizer subsidies, there was a need
for a national safety net program in Malawi. At that
time, however, safety net programs were nonexistent.
I imagined dire consequences.
For a few years, no such dire events occurred, partly due to government’s
delaying the final removal of fertilizer subsidies and partly
due to droughts in 1991 and 1993, which led to donor-supported
free input grants programs. In 1994/95, however, the price
of fertilizer increased 200 to 300 percent without corresponding
increases in maize prices in 1995/96 and 1996/97. As Uttaro’s
paper in this edition shows, by 1997 farmers dropped their land-intensification
strategies, with both men and women farmers shifting back from
hybrid maize varieties to non-fertilizer-responsive local maize
varieties. Aggregate maize production fell. This
was followed by a massive devaluation of the Kwacha in August,
1998, and subsequent increase in maize prices (as shown by Anderson's
paper in this edition). Many food-insecure households were threatened
by the growing length of the hunger season, and the Malawi government
responded in 1998/99 with a safety net program – called
the starter pack program. But as demonstrated in Gough’s
paper here, because the starter pack was universally applied
to all rural households, its benefits were too small to significantly
increase cash incomes of the food insecure households who comprise
the poorer 40% of the rural population.
How to reach the bottom two quintiles of the population in a poor African
country remains a tough problem, and one that forces government
to examine its funding trade-offs when designing a soil fertility
replenishment strategy. If government allocates its scarce
funds by importing Minjingu phosphate rock from Tanzania and
distributing it free over a wide geographical area (relying
on agroforestry innovations to replace nitrogen lost over the
last 20 years), as Sanchez suggests, it might increase aggregate
food production in the country. But would it address food
insecurity in the country? No, the truly food-insecure
can only be addressed via a safety net program targeted directly
at them, not at all the households in a given area. Neither
should government be persuaded by OECD donor countries with
oversupplies of cereals to provide a maize safety net to farmers
who know how to grow their own maize and can do it more cheaply
with a fertilizer safety net. A maize safety net would
only increase their dependency. A government concerned
with improving food security but strapped for funds might spend
them more wisely on a productivity-enhancing safety net program
(PES-net) that would provide nitrogen-fixing seedlings or seeds
to only the food-insecure households.
Findings from all the micro-level studies undertaken as part of the “Gender
and Soil Fertility” project seem to agree. During
the five years of the project, we analyzed several policy
options with respect to whether they work for women farmers
in Africa: fertilizer vouchers, small bags of fertilizer
sold in local markets, credit and microcredit for fertilizer,
grants of fertilizer, and the organic options (agroforestry
innovations, legumes, animal manures, and combinations).
In all the sites, we found location-specific and historical
conditions made it difficult to generalize results across
all the micro climes. Yet our conclusions may be summarized
as the following:
distribution is almost non-existent in Africa. We did
not find a naturally-occurring experiment in which to assess
fertilizer vouchers targeted at women food producers.
Small bags of fertilizer
are bought in local shops by both men and women in MHHs, but
are usually used on men’s cash crops rather than on
women’s food crops. Small bags are rarely bought
by FHHs. Fertilizer in local markets, unlike cement,
is rarely sold by the kg.
Credit targeted directly
at women is problematic. For women in MHHs, it leaks
to men in locations where cash income is the man’s domain.
Women use informal credit more than formal credit. Household
composition also affects credit use, as FHHs are still
considered bad credit risks.
Grants of fertilizer
targeted only at the poorest FHHs did not occur in Africa
and where targeted universally at all rural households
the impacts are not significant. Flexi vouchers for grants
of fertilizer add more to household cash income while input
grants add more to aggregate maize production.
Women plant grain legumes
for food and do not plow them under when green, so they do
not serve as a soil fertility amendments in Africa.
Lack of land, labor,
awareness-knowledge, and technical-knowledge limit women’s
adoption of agroforestry innovations (e.g., hedgerow intercropping,
biomass transfer, and improved fallows). But where land is
available and extension efforts alleviate the lack of knowledge
constraints, poor FHHs do test and adopt improved fallows,
even more so than married women in MHHs.
Combinations of small
amounts of chemical and organic fertilizers may show promise,
but again, we did not find a naturally-occurring experiment
that was disseminating innovative new combinations of inorganic
and organic fertilizers in a formal manner.
to cash crops does not ensure their use of soil-fertility
amendments, but does help relieve women’s cash constraints,
so that cash-allocation decisions may be made about fertilizer
use. In locations where women receive credit for cash-crop
inputs, they usually divert some of the fertilizer received
from the cash crop to their food crops.
conclusions reached by the individual papers in this issue,
taken collectively, show that gender differences do affect
the use of soil fertility amendments by African farmers.
Results are hopeful for reaching women farmers in male headed
households (i.e., married women) and men in MHHs. These
two groups do have some good options for improving their soils
in the form of small bags of inorganic fertilizers sold locally,
microcredit programs for fertilizer use, safety-net programs,
additional cash cropping, and organic options (including legumes
and agroforestry innovations). But African women farmers
are not all alike. For the poorer FHHs, the results
do not paint a rosy picture. Their options are fewer
because their resources of land, labor, and capital are less.
In our opinion, their soil-fertility options boil down to
cash cropping, nitrogen-fixation technologies (in the form
of improved fallows or doubling-up legumes), and safety net
programs. For these women, and thus 25 to 35 percent
of African households, if improved fallow technologies do
not diffuse or if markets for cash crops fail, soil fertility
improvements will have to come in the form of safety net programs.
The challenge for African governments and donor countries
will be in designing and delivering safety net programs that
can serve the dual goals of increasing agricultural productivity
as well as helping food-insecure households survive the lengthening
hungry seasons in Africa.
Comments by Alan Randall
Anybody who is comfortable with the notion of passive use values for
environmental amenities might be able to find the public good
in the problem under consideration here. When one thinks
about public goods, several things come to mind: first, the
notion of preferences, i.e., something has to be preferred
by at least some people, and second, the notion of an isolation
paradox, i.e., that there is something produced which is of
some value to many people, but not enough value that anybody
in particular can afford to pay the cost of it. But
if a way were found to break the isolation and bring them
all together, to share costs and as such generate benefits
for each one that exceeded their own costs, that is, a private
benefit that exceeds cost share individual by individual,
then one clearly has an isolation paradox that is loosely
called a public good.
What are some of the sort of things that might or might not be public
goods? There is relatively little to guide us.
There is the notion that extensification of land use for farming
that would diminish biodiversity in Africa or elsewhere might
represent a public bad, and there might be a public good in
addressing this. The notion of soil as natural capital
is not certain but should be kept as a possibility.
Is poverty itself a public bad? Certainly lots of people
prefer to live in a society where others are doing reasonably
well -- although there are some reservations about this.
What about social instability, such as occurs with urban migration?
There might be a public good in keeping people productive
and in place where they are.
Poverty and Social Instability as Public Bads
These concepts have to be formulated very carefully. The notion
of defining other people as public goods is a little bit scary.
Yet some of the impacts of loss of soil fertility in Africa
-- demands on services, losses of biodiversity, etc. -- can
be thought of as potential public bads.
It is clear that something ought to be done about replenishing Africa's
soil fertility. The questions arises: why must it be
addressed as some kind of extended micro economics? It
perhaps might be sufficient to say in fact that it is a good
thing, therefore go ahead and do it. Very few people
see the world in quite the same way as welfare economists
do, as utilitarian consequentialists. But there are
lots of other people who do see the world that way: champions
of various kinds and libertarians and contractarians and people
who invent far fetched stories starting in the notion of natural
rights. There are two ways to think about the sort of
pluralism that emerges from that. One is that there
is a stand-off between those who are consistently consequentialists
about everything and those who are Kantian. Bernard
Williams is writing eloquently at the moment for that notion
of pluralism. But there is another view: that we are
all ourselves pluralist in some kinds of ways, and we draw
upon different traditions to answer different questions. There
is a conversion process that turns us into consequentialists
-- economists -- and makes us want to put everything in that
framework. But the rest of the world does not necessarily
do this. There is room for arguments in favor of allowing
reasonably productive and prosperous farming in Africa at
the expense of people beyond that sector. It does not
necessarily need a contrived economic argument for justification,
and the public good argument doesn't seem to hold water.
Finally, why does it seem important to make a welfare and efficiency
argument for taking care of what seems to be a serious problem?
In the United States, very poor economics was done in the
1970s, officially in the name of the forest service, to redefine
benefits. The reason for that was that the commitment
to maximization of benefits was simply premature. The
support for it really wasn't there. There is a similarity
here, where we have donor agencies that are committed to imposing
world prices right down to the local level of people who are
substantially distanced from world markets. So in some
ways, we might pragmatically be forced to contrive an efficiency-type
argument to do something that very likely should be done for
quite different and thoroughly honorable reasons.
Comments by Andrew Schmitz
At a recent annual "Farming for Profit" conference in Saskatchewan,
Grant Devine (on the board of directors of a large fertilizer
producer), argued that the fertilizer industry was totally
competitive. There had supposedly been no money in the
fertilizer business for years so many people went out of business.
But we have learned something about predatory pricing.
Some firms exit the industry because other firms drive them
out and then they drive the prices right back up. What
happens as a result? Share prices go up.
Second, if you take a look at the total demand for fertilizer worldwide,
the large growth in demand is obviously from India and China.
Third, with respect to fertilizer applications and prices,
I still am totally confused about the use of fertilizer, whether
it be in Africa or Saskatchewan or wherever. Even in
Saskatchewan we are still trying to find out whether there
are any benefits to precision farming with very specific applications
of fertilizer to different subplots of a field.
We have no idea what the fertilizer response functions are
in any area of the world, let alone Africa. Production
functions vary all over the map.
Something that is even more disturbing is that yields have actually gone
down in a large part of the world, even with heavy applications
of fertilizer. The uncertainty of fertilizer use is
due not only to the impacts of variations in amounts of fertilizer
applied, but also to the impacts of soil degradation and soil
fertility loss with continuous cropping. As a result,
we're going to have to add more and more fertilizer just to
keep yields constant. So what does this mean to Africa?
It appears those soils have been cultivated for hundreds of
years. How can one maintain the quality of those soils?
We have a very serious problem of soil degradation.
On this whole topic, until we solve these problems and understand the
production function, the applicability of economics is questionable.
How much do we really know about how soils respond to fertilizer?
We recently wrote a book on Bulgaria on the topic of privatization in
Eastern Europe. What was really frightening was how
could Bulgarian farmers fertilize at the world market price
of fertilizer, when government capped the price of wheat at
$2.00 a bushel? Government policy was charging farmers
essentially the full price of fertilizer at the international
market price and then placing a cap on what they could export
and at what price. It essentially squeezed farmers right
out of the fertilizer market. With respect to fertilizer
use in Africa, this means one also has to know the pricing
policy of the main commodities to get a feel for whether fertilizer
can be applied at any profitable price.
One can easily justify subsidizing fertilizer use based on the theory
of "the second best."  If one is in a
world of "second best," which in Africa is the case,
one can easily justify an international cost sharing (i.e.,
subsidy applied to fertilizers). However, the issue
of "second best" arguments is perhaps less contentious
than how to effectively implement a subsidy so that it goes
to the end user -- the farmer. What form should a subsidy
take so that it doesn't end up being wasted by governments
and/or the private sector? Often subsidies do not benefit
those for whom they are intended because of the distribution
system. If a subsidy program is designed poorly so that
it ends up in the hands of middlemen, then it is of no use
in helping local farmers out. Also, there are issues
such as fertilizer price instability and relative prices of
inputs versus outputs. Fertilizer prices are highly
unstable. A major importer can gain from optimal fertilizer
storage. One should examine subsidizing storage rather
than placing direct subsidies on the input itself. Finally,
what is the price of maize, for example, in Africa given that
a large percentage of domestic food grown is consumed directly
by the household? If this food is undervalued, then
the case is weakened for increased use of fertilizer.
Comments by G. Edward Schuh
The Sasakawa Global 2000 project (SG 2000) in Africa combines the agronomic
genius of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug and the
political skills of Jimmy Carter with the commitment to African
development of the late Ryoshi Sasakawa and his son.
In the 1980s, these three started a technology transfer project
that is now operating in twelve African countries. In
order to meet their policy advice needs they created a group
called Agriculture Council of Experts (ACE), part of whose
mandate is to put together policy papers. The first
paper that was put together was called, "Fertilizer Policy
in Africa: Recurring Issues and Recommendations". 
In order to increase fertilizer use, the issue of fertilizer profitability
and a whole range of barriers or constraints to increased
fertilizer use must be addressed. My comments detail
these, and follow with a set of recommendations, which are
presented here with little elaboration. The puzzlement
about fertilizer use is that the low level of use is due to
a large number of factors; and implementation of any fertilizer
policy requires tradeoffs between some of these factors.
Barriers to increased fertilizer use
First, the lack of profitability in using fertilizer is due to unprofitable
and unstable ratios between the prices of fertilizers and
product prices, as has already been mentioned. If one
looks at any of the current price ratios (of nitrogen fertilizer
to maize, for example), it is clear why farmers do not use
fertilizer. If one then looks at the instability in
the price range, one can see why they do not spend a lot of
time trying to learn how to use it unless it is highly subsidized.
Second, past dependence on heavy government intervention in the economy
has led to unstable supplies, inappropriate fertilizer mixes,
and lack of timeliness in delivery for profitable use.
On the lack of relevance of fertilizer mixes, a lot of the
fertilizer supplies have been the byproduct of aid programs.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the market really isn't
useful, it is often that some companies are trying to get
rid of unwanted fertilizer blends and sell them to aid agencies
at lower prices. The United States is not the only country
guilty of doing this.
Third, there is uncertainty about the responses to fertilizer due to
unstable weather patterns, lack of irrigation, and more importantly,
unstable public policies. Fourth, there is lack
of knowledge on the part of farmers about the use of fertilizers.
African farmers implement all kinds of complex systems of
multiple cropping and rotations of numerous crops. Decisions
about how much fertilizer to use, and where and how to apply
it, become a very complicated issue.
The fifth barrier to increased fertilizer use is lack of sufficient distribution
systems for modern fertilizers that would facilitate delivery
of input supplies to the farmers in a timely manner.
The sixth barrier is lack of appropriate fertilizer mixes
for local conditions. The seventh is lack of credit,
from the small farmer to the retailer and the wholesaler in
the entire fertilizer distribution system. The eighth
barrier is lack of foreign exchange for importers to acquire
adequate and appropriate supplies. The ninth barrier
is lack of adequate research and extension systems to generate
knowledge about fertilizer use and to diffuse that knowledge
to the farm population.
The tenth and final barrier is an inadequate world transportation and
communication infrastructure to reach distant areas and to
ensure timely delivery. This issue is very neglected.
The physical infrastructure that Americans take for granted
is just not there. Consequently, when looking at the
costs of getting fertilizer to the farms and getting the product
back out, there are serious problems and escalating costs.
Ultimately, the question boils down to whether government
wants to use fertilizer subsidies to offset some of those
kinds of costs.
We suggest eleven policy recommendations for reducing and eliminating
these ten barriers.  The first should not be
surprising: trade and exchange rate policies are still
wrong in most African countries, even though they underwent
structural adjustment reforms and programs in the 1980s.
Looking at their price, relative to product price at the port,
fertilizers are still very unprofitable -- even at the port.
Exchange rates are the most important price of the economy.
If government doesn't get them right, it's not going to be
able to do much about the profitability of fertilizer.
In addition, Africa still has rather large export taxes. Africa
has specialized in export taxes that limit their own farmers'
access to international markets. This drives domestic
prices down to a very low level. Until governments begin
to get some of these policies right, little other progress
can be made. Trying to offset this with subsidies becomes
a costly process, and leads to questions about obtainability.
How long can we continue to provide those kinds of subsidies?
Second, present policy trends towards the privatization of the economy
should be continued. It is imperative that a private
distribution sector for fertilizer should be developed and
that government withdraw from this activity. So much
of the fertilizer industry in the public sector is filled
with people who have no knowledge of agriculture or farming
or fertilizer. In addition, the public sector has often
been dull and slow and unresponsive.
Third, while little can be done about unstable weather, a great deal
can be done about unstable policy. Out of unstable monetary
and fiscal policies one gets unstable exchange rates.
This leads to price uncertainty.
Fourth, expanded research efforts are needed to better understand
semi-arid soils and to solve the very specific problems caused
by lack of knowledge of local responses to the application
of fertilizer. Similarly, expansion of extension efforts
is needed in most semi-arid African countries, to help farmers
learn new production practices and more economic use of their
resources. Some international agricultural research
centers (IARCs) are dominated by agronomists and physical
scientists, but research on soils often ends up far down on
the list of priorities. The truth of the matter is,
very little is known about soils in most places in the world.
We tend to think that increased agricultural output comes
from the introduction of improved varieties. But underdevelopment
can be caused by a soil problem and the solution can be a
technological innovation produced by soil scientists who know
the local soils. This is very applicable to large areas
Fifth recommendation: An efficient distribution system for fertilizer
will emerge only if the government withdraws from the sector
and the use of fertilizer becomes profitable. Thus,
government parastatals that occupy space in the fertilizer
distribution system should be phased out quickly and macro-economic
policies put in place to make agricultural production profitable.
There is also a whole set of issues related to educating people
in the private distribution sector, and setting up a strong
extension program among fertilizer distributors so that they
know something about fertilizer values. In the process
they can learn about the risks and uncertainties involved
Sixth recommendation: It is difficult to generalize about fertilizer
mixes. Proper mixtures vary enormously from country
to country and from commodity to commodity. The only
general recommendation would be that preference should be
given to high concentration materials, largely because of
the high transportation costs of fertilizer. Government
can lower the transportation costs with high concentration
materials. But fertilizer mixes still must reflect their
local nutrition deficiencies and their commodities.
The seventh recommendation involves imperfectly performing credit markets,
which are a major issue in Africa and other parts of the developing
world. There is hardly any place in Africa with efficient
financial intermediaries. Instead, state-controlled
banks take money appropriated by the government and channel
it into the financial system. Distribution is not always
done equitably or appropriately. Major reforms in the
banking system are needed, reforms that create financial intermediaries
and institutions to mobilize savings and make it available
to farmers. The best institutions are cooperatives and
credit unions that mobilize savings from local farmers and
then provide a mechanism for reinvesting it. To do something
similar for the fertilizer distribution sector is more complicated.
It requires examining the barriers and constraints that the
fertilizer distributors face. They often cannot get
access to credit either. So again, there is another
whole set of institutional innovations badly needed.
The eighth recommendation focuses on how to get more realistic exchange
rates. Government first needs to get trade policy right.
It needs to get monetary and fiscal policy at least stabilized,
so that they become neutral. With a flexible exchange
rate, that is probably as good as it can be. Government
is not going to eliminate all of the instability generated
from the foreign exchange markets. But if it neutralizes
fiscal and monetary policy, and gets trade policy at least
uniform across sectors, it can do a lot to eliminate exchange
rate distortions. At the same time, it will stabilize
this most important macro price.
The ninth recommendation concerns lack of infrastructure in Africa. One
of the tragedies of the developing countries is that when
the World Bank became heavily involved in stabilizing macro
prices and policy reform, it turned away from longer term
investments in physical infrastructure. Consequently,
the highway, railroad, and communication sectors in Africa
are really non-existent. Africa cannot get very far
until it has more physical infrastructure. It has a
long way to go.
Tenth, more long-term investment in agricultural research and extension
systems is also recommended. The stock of location-specific
knowledge about agriculture in African countries is very,
Finally, one can hardly talk about fertilizer or fertilizer policy in
Africa without talking about subsidies and the enormous pressure
on African governments to provide subsidies. Norman
Borlaug feels that to diffuse various improvements, Africa
has to have more fertilizer use and the only way to promote
fertilizer use is to subsidize it. Part of the problem,
however, is that fertilizer subsidies have not been supplemented
by government investments in infrastructure, institutions,
and policies that permanently reduce farm level fertilizer
prices (e.g., reducing transportation costs and increasing
efficiency in the input and output markets). It is both
more equitable and efficient to use scarce development resources
to reduce or eliminate these constraints to the wider use
of fertilizer. Fertilizer subsidies should be conditioned
on investments that reduce the structural impediments to increased
fertilizer use in the future.
At the same time, there is a certain degree of ambivalence on the whole
subsidy issue. Eventually the question comes up, "what
are the tradeoffs"? If government uses its scarce
development resources to subsidize fertilizer in the short
run, it has to be at the expense of longer term investments
that eventually would lower fertilizer costs. What we
as economists can contribute to this debate is to look carefully
at the tradeoffs and estimate just how much long-term physical
infrastructure versus how much of the domestic fertilizer
industry can and should government subsidize. How much
agricultural research can government provide if it is also
subsidizing short-term fertilizer benefits that nobody would
pay for privately?
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al. 1995: pp 255-258.
Sanchez et al. 1997. Smaling (1993) has estimated
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(N), 2.5 kg/ha/yr for phosphorus (P), and 15 kg/ha/yr for
are concentrated in central Africa.
and Schmitz 1982.
and Schuh 1997.
and Schuh 1997.
The following is the suggested format for referencing this
article: Gladwin, Christina H., Alan Randall, Andrew Schmitz,
and G. Edward Schuh. "Is Fertilizer
a Public or Private Good in Africa? An Opinion Piece."
African Studies Quarterly 6, no.1: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v6/v6i1a13.htm