Morocco’s phosphate cache eases Africa’s food crisis | Business | Economic and financial news from a German perspective | DW

Morocco’s role in maintaining food security in Africa is under threat due to soaring energy prices and climate change, a Middle East Institute (MEI) report warned recently.

The threat comes as more than 264 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished due to poverty and conflict and after global food inflation last year hit its highest level in 10 years.

At the same time, much of the agricultural soil in African countries is of poor quality, partly due to geography, environmental degradation and monoculture, which has further weakened its health.

Morocco holds about 75% of the world’s reserves of phosphate rock – a mineral used in fertilizers. In 2020, Morocco and Western Sahara – a disputed territory 80% of which is administered by Morocco – had reserves of around 50 billion metric tons of rock.

Rather than just exporting the raw material, Morocco decided decades ago to become one of the largest fertilizer producers in the world. In 2020, his state-owned phosphate mining and fertilizer group OCP held a 54% market share of fertilizer exports to Africa.

By raising its ambitions, the country has become a “gatekeeper of the world’s food supply”, according to the report’s author, Michael Tanchum, associate senior policy researcher at the Africa Program of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and non-resident. Fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Drought and monoculture have not improved soil quality in much of Africa

“Impressive” agricultural yields

OCP has set up several joint ventures with other African countries to transform phosphate into phosphorus, a key nutrient in fertilizers. Already, the firm has subsidiaries in 12 African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

An OCP program called Agribooster, has benefited more than 630,000 farmers, according to the report, resulting in much higher agricultural yields. The yield of maize in Nigeria has thus increased by 48% and the yield of millet in Senegal has increased by 63%.

“Morocco is achieving impressive increases in agricultural yields across Africa, preventing the continent’s food crisis from worsening,” Tanchum told DW.

At the same time, phosphate mining and fertilizer production are energy-intensive and water-intensive processes, responsible for consuming about 7% of Morocco’s annual electricity production and 1% of its water supply, the report says.

Another key ingredient in many fertilizers is nitrogen, which is produced from natural gas. Tanchum wrote that natural gas made up at least 80% of the cost of producing nitrogen fertilizers.

Soaring fertilizer and food prices

The pandemic shutdowns of the past two years have limited natural gas supplies, sending prices skyrocketing. The price hikes have “triggered a vicious circle of soaring fertilizer and food prices”, Tanchum said, which not only impacted the cost of phosphate production but also threatens to trigger a new outbreak. wave of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa.

A solar panel at a power station outside the central Moroccan city of Ouarzazate

Morocco has stepped up investment in solar and wind power, but two green hydrogen projects with Germany are on hold

Although environmental groups are concerned about the pollution caused by phosphorus-based fertilizers, which impact drinking water and aquatic life, Tanchum sees renewable energy as essential to help Morocco maintain the growth of the economy. phosphate mining and fertilizer production.

This will help Morocco “escape the vicious circle of upward spiraling prices in the food-energy-water nexus”, it writes in the report.

The North African country already has vast solar and wind energy resources, enough to meet almost a fifth of the country’s electricity needs. The Rabat government has signed agreements with Germany in recent years to develop two hydrogen-based green energy projects. However, the plans are on hold after a row between Berlin and Rabat over the disputed region of Western Sahara.

As Morocco has few natural gas resources, green hydrogen has been touted as a way to help OCP synthesize green ammonia, which has a high nitrogen content – a key ingredient in fertilizers.

“Use green energy for fertilizer production – both as an energy source to make the ‘green ammonia’ fertilizer input – and [water] desalination, is a way out of this vicious cycle,” Tanchum said.

With food inflation likely to remain high in 2022, Morocco’s role in helping to ensure stable and affordable products will be even more critical. Agriculture is not only vital for improving food security, but it is also a major source of income for Africans, with almost half of Africa’s population employed in the agricultural sector.

China, Turkey, Russia and Arab Gulf states have rushed to boost agricultural investment in Africa, providing an opportunity for the US and EU to step up their commitment to promoting a green food revolution on the mainland, Tanchum said.

Without it, he said, the West “is likely to see the continued erosion of economic leadership on the continent”.

Edited by: Hardy Graupner

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