University of Michigan Explores Green Ammonia Fertilizer Market in South Africa in Collaboration with AFAP

01 Aug 2023

The increasing cost of fertilizer globally continues to be a challenge for many farmers, particularly, smallholder farmers. Also, an increasing focus on sustainability and carbon footprint reduction (both in manufacturing and in transport of product) has fertilizer manufacturers looking at various ways to green their value chains.  One innovation that a growing number of scientists and companies are working on is the utilization of renewable energy technology to produce green ammonia and nitrogen-based fertilizer in a distributed production structure. One such innovation has been developed by a professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Johannes Schwank, Ph.D., the James and Judith Street Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan (See “$2 million to replace fossil fuels with solar power in fertilizer production”). On behalf of Prof. Schwank, a team of University of Michigan business students travelled to South Africa to explore potential markets for the technology and the ultimate products that are being developed at the University of Michigan.  Given the work of AFAP and our familiarity with the South African market, AFAP hosted the students and helped them set up meetings with various stakeholders in fertilizer industry and the agricultural research sector.

The overall objective of the visit was to conduct a market study of green ammonia fertilizer in South Africa. In addition, the study tour sought to understand the current fertilizer value chain (opportunities and bottlenecks). The study tour involved meeting value chain actors, including regulatory bodies: National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). Other value chain actors were the Fertilizer Association of Southern Africa (FERTASA) and the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA). Additional stakeholders included fertilizer blenders in the provinces of Mpumalanga and Free State. In the North West, the University of Michigan students engaged with hub agro-dealers, retailers, and farmers. The tour formed part of their Master of Business Administration (MBA) international research requirement.

The study tour aligns with AFAP’s strategy of fostering close collaboration with educational institutions and academia. By engaging with such institutions, AFAP aims to contribute to thought leadership, offer itself as an applied research demonstration platform, and to engage in innovative and new research developments in the fertilizer and other inputs related sectors.

“It thrilled us to welcome the University of Michigan to South Africa as part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen agricultural knowledge and innovation in the region. According to the students, the tour was insightful in understanding the dynamics of the fertilizer value chain in South Africa. By sharing our experiences and collaborating with educational institutions, we aim to drive positive change in the agricultural sector, ensuring sustainable growth and prosperity”, says Njabulo Mazibuko, Acting South Africa Country Manager, AFAP.

The hosting of the University of Michigan represents an additional initiative that AFAP has recently undertaken to advance market-led intervention related to improving the accessibility, availability, and affordability of fertilizer and agro-inputs for small holder farmers.