News Wrap


Hardening international fertiliser prices are having a severe impact on farmers in India, the Union Government of India's subsidy outgo and manufacturers and sellers. In July 2018, the average cost plus freight price of urea imported into India, increased by 38% to $286.88, compared to July 2016. The rupee's exchange rate has weakened from an average of Rs 64.46 to Rs 70.08 (to the dollar). The global prices of other fertilisers, viz mono and di-ammonium phosphate and muriate of potash, and key intermediate raw materials, such as ammonia and sulphate have also increased in the last 18 months, propelled by increasing prices of oil. Ammonia which is an input for both Urea and MAP/DAP, is produced from natural gas, sulphur, a raw material for phosphoric acid, which is used to make all phosphate fertilisers, is a by-product of refineries. Prices of fertilisers move in tandum with that of oil and gas. The maximum retail price of urea is controlled by the government. Since this is fixed at Rs 5909.4 per ton (for neem coated urea, inclusive of 5% goods and services tax) the fertiliser companies cannot pass on the higher international prices to farmers. This applies to both imported, as well as domestically manufactured urea. But for other decontrolled fertilisers, including DAP and MAP, the present MRPs are 20 to 22% higher compared to 2017. Even for complex fertilisers, containing varying proportions of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur nutrients, prices have increased by 15 to 20%. Retail prices of diesel used in tractors have also risen from Rs 60 to Rs 70 per litre.

Even with the Union Government of India, substantially hiking minimum support prices of crops since mid-2018, in the current Kharif season, pegging these at 1.5 times their estimated paid-out cultivation costs plus imputed value of unpaid family labour, inflationery external factors are affecting the entire process, while farmers are paying the price, the fertiliser industry has been affected, more so on urea. Higher prices for fertilisers and costlier diesel have neutralised hike in minimum support prices for crops. From 01 January 2018, under a new subsidy disbursal system, fertiliser companies would be paid subsidy on any bag, only after actual sales to a farmer. The transaction is registered at the point-of-sale machine, with the retailer.

Zimbabwe Collapsing

The reality of decades of neglect is that Zimbabwe is in a state of collapse, as the elite of the ruling Zanu-PF party under Robert Mugabe, focused on entrenching their power and enriching themselves. Hospitals suffer from a shortage of basics, such as surgical gloves, no surfactant drugs to develop the lungs of babies, no x-ray machines and often no water, no trollies nor stretchers, and no pain killers. Once the pinnacle of health care in southern Africa, Parirenyatwa hospial in Harare has peeling walls and dry tops. The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) declared a land-slide for Zanu-PF in parliament, and a narrow 50.8% victory for Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's former right-hand man, in the presidential vote of 30 July 2018. The main objective of the elections was to gain legitimacy, and then access to international financial institututions and investment. Voting in the first elections, without Mugabe on the ballot was peaceful, as was the campaign. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Nelson Chamisa, was able to hold rallies across the country, unlike previous elections. However, the opposition had no access to state media. A new voters roll was suddenly produced three days before voting, to which even the European Union did not get access, despite having funded it. The results showed for more people casting votes for the president than for parliamentary seats—4.77 million compared with fewer than 4 million—in what had been simultaneous ballots. After the announcement of the presidential results, oppositon supporters clashed with police on the streets of Harare, after suggestions the poll had been rigged. The political violence claimed at least ten lives, and an unknown number injured. There is a widely held belief that General Constantino Chiwenga, the former army chief who led the coup against Mugabe, is pulling the strings. An estimated 5000 white farmers have had their lands taken over since 2000.

US Confederate Monuments
The efforts by civil rights groups and others in the United States of America, to do away with Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam, gained momentum three years ago, after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. More than 110 symbols of the Confederate have been removed across USA since then. More than 1700 symbols are sitll standing, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group. Many of the monuments were erected in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War's end. Amid debate about race and the legacy of slavery in the US protesters toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier on the campus of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on 20 August 2018. About 300 demonstrators gathering on 20 August 2018 evening, ahead of first day of autumn classes for a protest and march at the base of Silent Sam, a memorial erected in 1913 to the soldiers of the pro-slavery Confederacy, killed during the Civil War. Protesters pulled the statue down with rope, cheering as it lay face down in the mud, its head and back covered in dirt. The governor and chancellor acknowledged the protesters' furstrations, but comdemned the violent destruction of public property.

Exodus from Venezuela
Fleeing Venezuela's spiralling economic and political crisis, thousands of Venezuelans are rushing towards the Peruvian border. Peru is one of the region's fastest growing economies, with 4.7% growth projected for 2019. On 25 August 2018, Peru closed its borders to Venezuelan migrants without a passport, as thousands holding only identification cards reached the border. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise, and stricter requirements for Venezuelans has popular support. An estimated 425,000 Venezuelans are in Peru. About 4000 people are arriving daily in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Several groups have set up aid stations in the six kilometre gap, between the Ecuadoran and Peruvian border crossings.

Vol. 51, No.22, Dec 2 - 8, 2018