Fertilizer shortages looms as Sable Chemicals experience forex challenges

By Staff Reporter

Zimbabwe is facing an acute shortage of Ammonium Nitrate following failure by top fertilizer manufacturer Sable Chemicals to import ammonia gas from South Africa a critical component in fertilizer production.

Acute foreign currency shortages, Sable Chemicals marketing manager Phillip Matemera said is the major cause for the import failure.

Consequently the fertilizer producer is operating below capacity a gloomy prospect for the dawning farming season.

“Currently, Sable Chemicals is operating below capacity owing mainly to national shortage of foreign currency which is curtailing the importation of Ammonia gas from South Africa. Ammonia gas is a critical input in the production of Ammonium Nitrate,” he said.

 Sable Chemicals requires US $2, 8 million monthly to import ammonia gas.

The only manufacture of ammonium nitrate AN is used as a top dresser to boost yields, Sable Chemicals is not realizing foreign currency as it is not exporting.

“We are not exporting any Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer because of constrained production which means that all products produced it taken up by the local market,” he said. 

At full capacity, the company produces 240 000 tonnes of nitrogenous fertilizers which in the 1990s was absorbed by the domestic market.

The Kwekwe-based fertilizer maker relies entirely on imported ammonia after it switched off its electrolysis plant to cut cost on electricity which had become a major costs driver.

The 14unit electrolyses plant consumed around 104 MW

Sable Chemicals challenges comes at a time when Zimbabwe is currently facing an economic crises marled by fuel and electricity shortages lasting up to 18 hours daily.

Inflation is believed to be hovering around nearly 300 %.

Meanwhile, Matemera said the fertilizer manufacturer is working on plans to increase AN production to about 90 000 tonnes by 2020, and 200 000 tonnes by 2021.

“The plans involve plant retooling and doubling the number of rail tank cars used to transport Ammonia gas from South Africa,” he said.

In the long term Matemera has raised expectation that exploration and investment in Coal Bed Methane in or Natural Gas from Muzarabani/ or Mozambique will allow the fertilizer producer to produce local ammonia gas and reduce the importation of gas.

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