Fertiliser shortfall looms

via Fertiliser shortfall looms | The Financial Gazette 3 Oct 2013

Sable Chemicals, the country’s sole ammonium nitrate (AN) fertiliser manufacturer will not be able to meet the country’s requirements for the summer cropping season, which has already started in earnest.

Zimbabwe requires at least 300 000 tonnes of the commodity per summer cropping season, but production at Sable has been averaging between 8 000 to 9000 tonnes per month since the beginning of the year.

Allen Manhango, Sable’s operations manager, said there would be need for substantial capital injection into the company to ramp up production.

He said; “We produce between 8 000 and 9 000 tonnes of AN fertiliser per month depending on the availability of raw materials and this has been the trend since the beginning of the year, which means there will be a shortfall which will be imported to augment our supplies.

“However, our production can increase provided that we access funding to improve our capacity which should go a long way in easing the situation,” he said.

The shortage of fertiliser will further depress the agricultural sector which has been reeling from erratic rainfall-induced droughts and inadequate funding.

For the 2012/13 agricultural season, the country is projected to produce 800,000 tonnes of the staple maize grain, below initial forecasts of 1,2 million tonnes.

Sable Chemicals has the potential of producing around 240 000 tonnes of fertiliser per annum but is currently producing around 70 000 tonnes per year due to an obsolete electrolysis plant that manufactures hydrogen, a key component in the production of ammonia.

The plant was commissioned in 1972 and has become expensive to run due to the fact that it consumes a lot of power in the production of ammonia. It also suffers from the shortage of spare parts, some of which can no longer be manufactured.

The company uses around 80 megawatts (MW) of electricity per month at current production levels of 70 000 tonnes of fertiliser per annum.

Despite the company being on a government subsidy, it has found it difficult to break even hence it has been picking up losses.

The company has on different occasions been cut off from the national grid by power utility ZESA for non–payment of bills, estimated to be hovering around US$35 million.

Manhango said Cabinet has since stepped in to ensure that there are no more power disruptions at Sable arising from the debt.

“That issue is now being dealt at Cabinet level so we are receiving our normal supplies and we will not be cut  off from the national grid. In any case, we have been servicing our debt,” he said.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, said their membership was aware that fertiliser would not be adequate for the coming season hence they have started making alternative arrangements.

“We know that we don’t have adequate stocks at the moment as farmers are still owed monies by government from the last season. We have since engaged companies that are capable of importing the product to augment our stocks,” Chabikwa said.

 

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3 comments on “Fertiliser shortfall looms
  1. Greyhora says:

    Electrolysis is outdated and expensive! The reason that particular technology was chosen by the Smith regime was to beat sanctions. There are several other options to hydrogen production; Biomass/Coal gasification is also expensive. Cheapest technology to run is steam reforming of natural gas, an attractive option given the fact that abundant NG reserves have been proven in the country. 8000 TPM equates to about 300 TPD, which is really small-scale production and alludes to massive under-utilization of the plant. This particular industry would benefit immensely from research into new methods of distributed ammonia production, to decrease reliance on a solitary supplier. New technologies worth looking into include using transition metal oxides (under atmospheric pressure), plasma reactors (lower temperatures and pressures) etc. The only problem with all this is that committed capital investment is required, and it’s hard to see where that will come from, especially in a third world country being run by deadwood!!

  2. Guvnor says:

    Correct Greyhora. The required schemes call for a quantum of effort and focus sadly lacking in the current crop of leadership.

  3. Bunguse Tauyawo says:

    The contribution by Greyhora began positively but got poisoned at the end by the hatred the writer has for the “deadwood” in Zimbabwe. Its a pity that such hate masks brilliant ideas that would otherwise carry the country forward. Or is it that these ideas can only work if the politics is “right”? There are some who say money knows no colour. Investors should do the same really and invest if it makes business sense to do so, indigenisation or not.

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