Africa's significant phosphate rock reserves present economic opportunities in exports and production.
Phosphate is an important mineral that finds use in many diverse applications, thus greatly impacting economic productivity. The agricultural sector turns to phosphate mining because of one very important derivate, phosphorus, which is a key component in crop fertilizer. The global fertilizer industry relies heavily on phosphate mining as this influences many agricultural activities and food production. Phosphate is also useful in numerous essential industrial processes like water treatment and the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.
With an abundance of phosphate deposits in Africa, there is immense promise for the continent and the world at large. Harnessing these deposits will foster economic growth, boost agricultural productivity, ensure food security, and create valuable employment opportunities. This should push more African countries that are yet to exploit their phosphate reserves to start investing in the future exploration and mining of this important mineral.
Countries in Africa already involved in the mining of phosphate include Morocco, Senegal, Togo, Algeria, and Tunisia. Smaller quantities of untapped phosphate rock deposits are believed to also exist in countries like Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, which can be valuable for local agricultural activities if exploited. In 2021, Morocco was ranked second globally, in phosphate production.
Phosphate mining commenced in Morocco in 1921, and the country currently holds between 70 and 75 per cent of global phosphate reserves. It is also known to control the Western Sahara territory, where the Bou Craa mine is situated, an area known to contain huge deposits of phosphate.
Millions of tons of phosphate rock are transported to the Atlantic port in El Ayoun, also situated in the Western Sahara territory, on a conveyor belt stretching 150 km in length. Activities at this port are central to fertilizer production around the world as this serves as a distribution hub. The Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP) group has ownership of Morocco’s phosphate reserves and is the world leader in phosphate fertilizer manufacturing.
Togo is also a leading producer of phosphate, with an estimated reserve of approximately 2 billion tons, according to Bloomberg. Back in 2013, phosphate made up 7.5 per cent of the country’s total exports, highlighting its significance as a valuable commodity in international trade. In 2019, it was reported that the country was partnering with Nigerian industry giant, Dangote Group, to add value to Togo’s mined phosphate, by processing it into phosphate fertilizers. This deal would see farmers gain access to quality and affordable fertilizers, thus improving soil fertility and ensuring food security The collaboration would also open more doors for foreign investment and increase the growth of the industrial sector on the continent.
In Senegal, the phosphate industry is also thriving, serving as the country’s second major foreign currency earner. It has in the past contributed to the country’s economy with an estimated annual amount of $230 million from export earnings. Two phosphate mines, Taiba and Lam-Lam, located in the Thies region,70 km from Dakar, Senegal’s capital, have helped sustain the country’s economy for many years.
In 2022, Coromandel International Limited, an Indian corporation, was reported to be in acquisition talks for a 45 per cent equity stake in the Baobab Mining and Chemicals Corporation (BMCC), a phosphate rock mining company operating in the Taiba region. Such a move would be beneficial to Senegal through strengthened bilateral relations with India, paving the way for future partnerships in other sectors.
Indeed, harnessing phosphate, a finite and non-renewable mineral resource, offers several long-term benefits, particularly for sectors like food and agriculture, which rely greatly on this mineral. Countries with smaller phosphate reserves, those which are yet to tap into deposits, or even countries lacking phosphate resources can benefit greatly from the phosphate rock mining world. Nigeria’s Dangote for instance has invested heavily in constructing fertilizer manufacturing plants in the country.
The Dangote Fertilizer Plant located in Lekki, is Africa’s largest fertilizer plant and can facilitate the processing of phosphate imports into fertilizer products using ammonia or urea in their processing techniques. A fertilizer agreement also exists between Nigeria and Morocco, to set up a production plant in the former, for producing ammonia, nitrogen and phosphoric acid, all key components in fertilizer production.
Such a collaboration is significantly advantageous. Firstly, the transportation costs that come with importing finished fertilizers are reduced. Secondly, knowledge transfer between the countries is promoted, saving on logistical expenses. The deal is also a great example of how countries can leverage and share their resources for mutual gains.
Another joint venture example is that of the OCP group of Morocco and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) of Ghana, in 2018 signed an MoU to set up a fertilizer value chain. Further talks were also held to in future develop a fertilizer production plant that would combine natural gas from Ghana and phosphate imports from Morocco for manufacturing high-quality fertilizers. This joint initiative would boost the agricultural sector in Ghana.
Phosphate mining benefits all countries in Africa. The mining and exportation of this crucial mineral are promising for economic growth. It also ensures food security and promotes a more self-reliant agricultural sector, capable of meeting its fertilizer needs. Aside from the added advantages of job creation and foreign exchange income, there is a valuable opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations with other nations.
Such initiatives consistently pave the way for future partnerships in other industrial sectors. The successes of countries such as Morocco, Togo, and Senegal, can hopefully inspire other countries on the continent - such as Algeria and Egypt, who possess significant reserves - to tap into their phosphate deposits and achieve similar success.