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Due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), governments all over the globe have placed restrictions on various forms of travel and trade. In many nations in Africa, where rates of food insecurity and malnutrition remain high, a prolonged restriction on the import and distribution of agricultural inputs could have profound negative impact on food production, which could cause a hunger crisis in addition to a sanitary one.

What is the East and Southern Africa Fertilizer Watch?

IFDC and are working to ensure that fertilizers and other agricultural inputs are able to move freely throughout the region – despite necessary government measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 – so that they can continue to reach farmers in time for the growing season. This initiative is led by the two organizations with support from the USAID-funded Bureau of Resilience and Food Security (RFS) Feed the Future project on Soil Fertility Technology Adoption, Policy Reform, and Knowledge Management (RFS-SFT) implemented by IFDC.

The East and Southern Africa Fertilizer Watch is designed to provide bi-weekly (twice per month) updates to stakeholders throughout 11 countries in the region using data collected around 10 indicators. These indicators are related to a variety of information such as the spread of COVID-19, measures taken by country governments, and logistical constraints that affect fertilizer flows. The goal is a well-informed and prepared fertilizer supply chain, where actors can use the information to plan accordingly and ensure consistent delivery to farmers.

Current Highlights

Published Thursday, May 14, 2020. These highlights will be updated every Thursday. 

The overall impact on fertilizer supply and distribution of COVID-19 related actions in East and Southern Africa (ESA) is not causing significant supply issues presently. However, there is concern that future constraints on cash availability will arise in the on-farm sector from limited demand in the coming season due to uncertainty in export and national markets.

  • Lockdown Status: The lockdown status of countries in the region largely remains unchanged with most countries continuing to balance isolation and social distancing measures with economic survival. South Africa reduced its alert from total lockdown (Level 5) to level 4, but the implementation has been marred by confusion resulting in much of the goodwill achieved in the initial weeks being eroded. Tanzania and Burundi have limited restrictions in place. Tanzania is facing border closures from neighbouring countries (Zambia being the most recent to enact, and Kenya considering measures, though with none taken at present), due to concern over the potential spread of COVID‑19 by truck drivers crossing the border. Many countries have received aid from various sources such as international donors like the World Bank through grants, or loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help with both medical staff and equipment, including testing capacity.
  • Fertilizer Availability: There have been no reported shortages of fertilizer supply, barring some minor issues with containerised product. Currently it is not the major fertilizer-use season in the region. There has been minor impact in Uganda on the demand side because of the shutdown of public transport.
  • Ports: Ports are still requiring isolation periods and restrictions on crew changes but have seen easing of quarantine requirements in some ports (e.g. South Africa) through multiple port discharges from COVID-19 “clean” countries in Africa. Ports continue to operate on reduced shifts (1/3 operational on a 15-day cycle) with modified operations. Quayside bagging has been banned at Mombasa, but this has improved port efficiency.
  • Container Freight: Still some issues with availability, mainly associated with cancelled ships and container availability
  • Road Freight: Reduced copper freight continues to impact viability of back freight out of copper export ports (e.g. Durban and Dar es Salaam). Kenya is undertaking driver testing prior to dispatch at Mombasa port. Kenya is also undertaking mandatory testing at designated truck stops within country.
  • Border Crossing: There is heightened concern and actions in countries wishing to address/prevent new source contamination, that truck driver testing be more rigorous. Actions range from preventing entry of drivers (e.g. where Rwanda requires “relay drivers” to transport goods internally; or Zambia closing its border with Tanzania). Testing at border crossings is increasing, but with measures ranging depending on the country where goods are originating from—from isolation at border post, to escorted mandatory isolation, to only temperature testing.
  • Fertilizer Sector Response: In most countries fertilizer associations and private sector companies continue working closely with ministry officials to ensure efficiency via distribution channels but within the demands of COVID-19 restrictions.