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Publication | 2022

Global fertilizer markets and policies: a joint FAO/WTO mapping exercise

The increase in fertilizer prices, which tends to be more rapid than the increase in the prices received by farmers, is also squeezing producer margins. This could imply, in turn, a lower affordability and input use by farmers, leading to additional issues of food availability and compounding the food access problem.

The situation is particularly severe in Africa, where countries are heavily dependent on imported agricultural inputs and smallholders account for a large share of agricultural production, many of whom are food insecure themselves. For many consumers, high input prices may mean lower quantities and/or quality of consumed food, and hence growing hunger and malnutrition, as well as less financial means for other necessities such as health and schooling. Curtailing such important expenditures could send communities into a vicious cycle of deepening food insecurity and poverty, with potentially irreversible effects.

International fertilizer benchmark prices began gathering momentum in 2020 and then soared in mid-2021 with many quotations reaching all-time highs month after month. Overall, international fertilizer supplies are likely to remain restricted in 2022/23 since stocks are low and geopolitical tensions have led to additional supply restrictions, giving rise to concerns about both reduced fertilizer availability and access, as well as adverse effects on food production and food security.

Some immediate effects of current fertilizer shortages have become manifest. Importantly, the market for nitrogenous fertilizer is increasingly supply-constrained, as numerous production plants faced with soaring prices for the key input of natural gas, have ceased or reduced output in view of lower margins. Current estimates by the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) suggest that 50-70% of European nitrogen fertilizer plants produce at curtailed capacity.

Higher prices and overall lower fertilizer affordability in 2021/22 suggest likely lower global fertilizer applications in 2022/23. The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), for instance, expects reductions in the use of all three main nutrients in 2022/23. Past crises (2008/09) show that such reductions in fertilizer applications are not uncommon.

The impacts of such reductions on production are difficult to gauge, and may not necessarily result in major yield declines, if limited to one season. Farmers in developed regions are more likely than those in other regions to maintain high levels of fertilizer use, even when prices soar. Farmers' demand is particularly inelastic for N-fertilizer. In poorer countries, overall fertilizer use could decline faster, including the all-important N-fertilizer. This occurred in 2009, for instance, when the use of N-fertilizer in Africa declined by 13% relative to 2008.

The continent only accounts for 3-4% of global fertilizer use, of which approximately 50% of its fertilizer supplies nutrify Africa's all-important cash crops. There are rising concerns that many African countries will not be able to access international fertilizer markets without external support. These are especially low-income countries situated in both Western Africa (e.g., Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea) and Eastern Africa (e.g., Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia).

Taking in to account that the global fertilizer market is currently supply-constrained, international initiatives that aim to ensure that African countries are able to access international fertilizer markets cannot be extended widely.


  • Minimizing disruptions to global trade in fertilizers

  • Ensuring access to fertilizers for the most vulnerable countries

  • Increasing market and policy transparency

  • Improving soil fertility and accelerating innovation for more efficient use of fertilizers