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Rabat turns fertiliser diplomacy to its advantage

Washington is backing Morocco's efforts to boost supplies which could undercut Russia's attempts at economic diplomacy in Africa

Competition for fertiliser and the minerals needed to make it are intensifying after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The war is set to drive a 7% drop in global fertiliser production over the next year. As Europe becomes a net importer of fertiliser, that is pressuring supplies and hiking prices within Africa. Some farmers in West Africa are reporting a quadrupling of imported fertiliser costs; others are making do with local alternatives.

The supply crisis offers economic and diplomatic opportunities for Morocco's state-owned OCP group, the country's phosphate rock miner and phosphoric acid manufacturer and fertiliser producer (AC Vol 63 No 6, A bigger piece of the potash). In the first quarter of 2022 the OCP recorded a turnover of €24 billion (US$23.9bn) up by 77% compared to the same period last year, and the company reports its upturn is continuing.

OCP officials say production could increase by 50% over the next four years. OCP exports 30% of its phosphate to Europe. Demand is rising fast this year but the European fertiliser association believes that it will only face a short-term shortfall.

OCP has been used by Morocco's diplomats to strengthen ties with fellow African states. Since the Russian crisis hit, OCP has given away 180,000 tonnes of phosphate and sent a further 350,000 tonnes at a discount to farmers in 20 African countries.

In July, Russia's Uralchem, one of OCPs main competitors, announced that it is ready to supply 25,000 tons of fertilizer to African countries for free (AC Vol 59 No 23, Fertilise this). Uralchem is also the main supplier of fertiliser to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Washington has been backing the OCP's expansion as a means of undercutting Russia's attempts to exploit the fertiliser shortage.

At a meeting in mid-August, Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mostafa Terrab, Chairman and CEO of OCP Group discussed how the company would continue to channel discounted fertiliser to smallholder farmers across Africa. Gambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia are establishing OCP subsidiaries.



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