The Russian war on Ukraine has started to hit home in South Africa, leaving small-scale farmers knee-deep in financial trouble. The link? Rapidly rising fertiliser prices.
A small-scale farmer from Limpopo, Mashudu Thobakgale, tells Food For Mzansi that he is feeling the pinch of inflated fuel and particularly fertiliser prices.
“The price of fertiliser has increased by 85% since the war started. I used to buy 50 kg of urea or 2:3:4 fertiliser for R495. Now the prices have increased to R908,” Thobakgale says.
As the world’s leading exporter of fertiliser materials in value terms, the supply and cost of fertilisers from Russia has been severely impacted. Fertiliser prices have already increased sharply throughout 2021 and have remained elevated at the beginning of they year. Now the conflict appears to be adding significant pressure on prices and end-user farmers.
Thobakgale says, “The war in Ukraine is costing us a lot as farmers, particularly small scale. As a small-scale farmer who buys cash, it’s not sustainable without intervention [from] government.
He explains that he is contracted to grow and produce vegetables at a fixed rate per tonne. The rate was negotiated last year, before the war broke out and global prices went rampant. He doubts that he will be able to negotiate a new selling price. But he will try.
Buy sooner rather than later… if you can
South Africa imports more than 80% of its fertiliser and agrochemicals, which means the country is a price taker.
In an earlier Food For Mzansi article, agricultural economist Ikageng Maluleke advised producers to buy their inputs as early as possible as global competition puts South Africa ad a disadvantage in an escalating situation. “Producers… basically need to buy as much as they need at whatever high price.”
But Thobakgale’s problems do not stop at exorbitant fertiliser prices. Among his list of challenges is government’s seemingly reluctant attitude towards eliminating red tape that would make it easier for farmers to access financing and other essential services.
“Small-scale farmers can’t survive and this is made worse by other domestic red-tape issues.”
Even SARS is delaying his diesel rebate refund. “I [submitted] my return on 2 February and two months later it has not been paid. It seems like they have no idea as to when it would be paid.”
He feels that plans to support small-scale farmers in these tumultuous times should be prioritised. For example, he feels that the Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative (Pesi) scheme was not comprehensive, plus discriminatory.
“I didn’t qualify [for the second rollout] even though I had applied for it last year. When I queried, I was told I am over 35 years of age and a man, therefore, I do not qualify. However, women over 35 do qualify.”
Thobakgale’s biggest hope is that government finds solutions to the domestic challenges soon, including the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war.
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