Here is a classic case of distortion of incentives and ‘crowding out’ of private sector in fertilizer supply.
Initially, when there was no subsidy in fertilizer, there was adequate supply in the market despite high prices. Then the Maoist-led government introduced fertilizer subsidy in 2007/08 and started increasing the subsidy amount in successive years. The supply by AICL, which is assigned to procure fertilizer and sell it at subsidized rate, undercut the market price. The private sector importers were unable to compete and survive at the prices offered to farmers by AICL through local cooperatives. Gradually, they got crowded out from the market. Since the government could not allocate adequate funds to subsidize fertilizer, AICL was unable to procure enough of it, leading to acute shortage during peak paddy planting season. AICL is able to meet only 20-25 percent of the demand for fertilizers. See this blog post for more.
Here are excerpts from an interesting piece on the same issue by BR Kaini, a former chairperson of AICL Board:
[…] Various surveys conducted in the past (ASPR in 2000/2001 and OPM in 2001/2002) estimated fertilizer usage ranges from 56.0kg to 58.0kg nutrient/hectare. But if we consider only the amount of fertilizer imported from formal sources for calculating per hectare use of fertilizers, it would be less than 30kg. This clearly indicates that about 50 percent fertilizer used in Nepal is imported from informal sources, which is both illegal and unreliable. Therefore, ensuring an adequate supply of fertilizer to farmers in the country has always been a challenge for the government.
The government has, however, changed fertilizer policies several times in a bid to ensure a smooth supply of fertilizers in the country. In this context, the government has recently re-introduced a subsidy on 25 percent chemical fertilizers of the total requirements. This new subsidy policy is now being implemented and the percentage of subsidized fertilizers is gradually increasing every year.
Nepal’s fertilizer supply growth rate is negative while the demand growth rate is over 15 percent (approximately) every year. AICL is meeting only 20 to 25 percent of the present demand of fertilizers in Nepal. Private importers have almost given up this business because of their inaccessibility to subsidy. Hence; there is a glaring gap between the projected demand and supply of fertilizers. The average supply gap is reported to be around 46 percent. In order to reduce this gap and make fertilizers available to farmers in time, some measures are imperative.
Read the full article here. Kaini also proposes some remedial measures, ranging from a study to estimate the real demand for fertilizer to domestic production and a fertilizer agreement at the regional level.