Mystery of 564 tonnes of Russian fertiliser cargo that didn’t reach Kenya

A BBG Baise Monrovia cargo ship at the Port of Mombasa carrying fertiliser from Russia in this picture taken on  May 31, 2023.

Photo credit:  Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

A consignment of 564 tonnes of fertiliser donated to Kenya by Russia last year disappeared in the high seas, new details show, pointing to a possible theft of the agricultural input.

The missing consignment was part of the 34,400 tonnes of raw fertiliser material Kenya received from Russia during its charm offensive to win the backing of African countries in its deadly battle against Ukraine.

The raw fertiliser material was expected to be used in tripling the production of ready-to-use product for distribution to farmers across the country, notes Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu in her latest report.

The public auditor says the missing consignment did not arrive at the port of Mombasa, suggesting it left Russia, but never arrived in Kenya.

“NCPB (National Cereals and Produce Board) received 33,835.9 metric tonnes hence a short landing of 564.1 metric tonnes from the 34,400 metric tonnes of fertiliser raw materials donated from Russia. The cause of the short landing was not explained,” notes Ms Gathungu in an audit on NCPB.

The 564 tonnes of the missing raw fertiliser would have produced 1,643 tonnes of ready-to-use fertiliser, valued at Sh197 million at the market price of Sh6,000 for a 50kg bag.

The Russian Embassy in Kenya in August last year noted that the 34,400 tonnes that Moscow donated to Nairobi would produce 100,200 tonnes of the finished product after reformulation.

“More than 34,000 tonnes of fertiliser donated to Kenya by the Russian Uralchem-Uralkali Group are now being reformulated to produce 100,200 tonnes of fertiliser. This will help Kenya a lot to get a good harvest this year,” the Embassy stated on August 3, following the landing of the input in the country.

Upon reformulation, the fertiliser (34,400 tonnes) would have a Sh12 billion market value. Russia’s donation came amid increasing prices of the input globally.

The price of fertiliser soared in the wake of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as sanctions imposed on Russia limited availability of natural gas, a main input for nitrogen fertilisers such as ammonia and urea.

This hit farmers financially while some, especially in Africa, stopped using fertiliser altogether, hampering yields and deepening a food crisis.

Since then fertiliser prices have eased as natural gas prices have come down, but Europe’s fertiliser industry is still struggling as Russian imports take a bigger share of the market.

The price of a tonne of fertiliser shot to peak at Sh87,510 in 2022 when the Russia-Ukraine war broke, but eased at Sh68,849 last year. Producing 51.9 million tonnes annually, Russia ranks as the third largest fertiliser producer globally, trailing the US which produces above 54 million tonnes, and India with an annual production of 52.6 million tonnes. It is not clear at what point the 564 tonnes of fertiliser donated to Kenya by Russia went missing.

The fertiliser disappeared in the middle of claims that NCPB distributed fake fertiliser through a subsidy programme. Eighty percent of legislators present in Parliament voted in favour of removal of Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi for allegedly flouting constitutional provisions on integrity and the prudent use of public resources, according to the motion in the National Assembly.

The minister is alleged to have approved the “procurement and distribution of fake fertiliser.” He escaped the impeachment.

Yesterday, Mr Linturi did not respond to requests for comment on the whereabouts of the missing fertiliser, which could be applied on between 15,000 and 30,000 acres of land, at the rate of 50kg/acre to 100kg/acre.

The Auditor-General also notes that the NCPB has not produced a breakdown of costs associated with the raw material of fertiliser, including shipping cost, transportation cost from the port to the granulator and handling costs. The costs would shed light on how much the NCPB spent to have a 50kg bag of the finished product.

“In the circumstances, the accuracy and completeness of the fertiliser granulation costs and the quantities of the various fertilisers granulated could not be confirmed,” Ms Gathungu says.

The government continues to maintain the importance of the fertiliser subsidy programme, committing about a fifth of the budget to the agriculture sector to the programme.

“To attain food and nutrition security, I propose an allocation of Sh54.6 billion for various programmes under this sector. This includes: Sh10 billion for the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme,” Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u said while delivering the current financial year’s budget speech.

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