Fertilizer in Ethiopia: An assessment of policies, value chain, and profitability

IMG_4763Fertilizer use in Ethiopia has almost quintupled since the official elimination of input subsidy programs. Application rates, however, remain far below the recommended level and, given the limited scope for area expansion, fertilizer promotion continues to be the central focus for enhancing agricultural productivity.

Unlike many other developing countries, Ethiopia has moved from partial liberalization in 1990s to government monopoly control over imports, with exclusive marketing through farmers’ organizations, since 2008. In 2010, the government embarked on a new policy initiative, the Growth and Transformation Program, which sets annual production targets for cereals by regions. In line with the objectives of this program, the government increased fertilizer imports from 440 thousand tons in 2008 to about 890 thousand in 2012. However, fertilizer availability (import plus the change in stocks) far exceeded total consumption resulting in large carryover stocks reaching almost half a million tons—worth roughly US$350 million—sitting in the cooperative warehouses throughout the country in 2012. This is the context in which the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) requested IFPRI to undertake a study analyzing policies, the value chain constraints, profitability of fertilizer, and opportunities for further expansion of fertilizer use.

The study involved interviewing a large number of stakeholders in the fertilizer value chain, collection of data on costs and margins from the key actors in the value chain, as well as household survey data. In this paper, we present the key findings from that study. In particular, the paper presents estimates of detail costs and margins in the value chain, econometrically derived profitability and yield responses, and the costs of the government’s fertilizer promotion policies.

Based the estimates of the costs and margins in the fertilizer value chain, the study argues that the current value chain will not be sustainable unless the scale of operation, as well institutional capacity, of the primary cooperatives goes up. The estimates of profitability suggest that fertilizer use in major cereals is profitable, irrespective of the method of calculation/estimation, implying that recent challenge with carryover stock reflects the institutional and value chain constraints.

With regards of program costs, this study finds that while there is no official subsidy program, fertilizer promotion has involved large fiscal costs—estimated at US$40 million per year since 2008. Finally, for further expansion of fertilizer use, the study makes two recommendations:

  •  Allow the private sector to participate in the domestic markets alongside cooperatives
  • Pay more attention to other cereals—such as barley and sorghum—where fertilizer use is close to zero

Read Fertilizer in Ethiopia: An assessment of policies, value chain, and profitability.