Africa News Bulletin

Morocco- Morocco’s Growing Role as ‘Gatekeeper of the World’s Food Supply’

Morocco’s international importance is set to grow exponentially in the coming years, with the country’s phosphate resources holding the key to feeding the world. In a recent comprehensive analysis of Morocco’ phosphate potential, Professor Michaël Tanchum describes the challenges and opportunities ahead for the north African kingdom.

Tanchum is a professor at Universidad de Navarra, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, and associate senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program. In his analysis for the US-based Middle East Institute, Tanchum outlines the importance of rapid action to develop Morocco’s fertilizer industry in a sustainable manner.

Morocco’s importance

In his analysis, Tanchum describes the meteoric rise of Morocco’s phosphate and phosphate-based fertilizer industry.

Morocco possesses over 70% of the world’s phosphate rock reserves, an irreplaceable ingredient in the fertilizers that feed our massive — and growing — global population. Tanchum describes the importance of Morocco’s transition from exporting raw materials to producing value-added products domestically.

Yet, Tanchum highlights that “after spending the previous decade transforming its fertilizer manufacturing sector into a global industry leader, Morocco now faces new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe supply chain disruptions that have followed in its wake.”

In a context of a global supply chain crisis, record food prices and growing food insecurity and hunger in Africa and beyond, Morocco’s importance is on the rise. “If Morocco can succeed in helping to stem the rising tide of hunger in Africa, it will become one of the principal geopolitical actors on the continent,” Tanchum highlights.

Challenges ahead

Yet amid the promising forecasts of Morocco’s growing international clout based on its cherished resources, the country finds itself facing significant challenges.

Morocco is one the frontline of countries set to feel the devastating impact of the growing climate crisis, while the country’s current water and energy needs are already barely met. Producing Morocco’s most-wanted product, phosphate-based fertilizer, has significant energy and water demands that could drain already limited resources in Morocco.

Tanchum describes such a situation as a vicious cycle, where the demand for fertilizers increases the demand for water and energy, leaving locals with little. Morocco’s phosphate industry already consumes 7% of the country’s energy, and 1% of all its water.

This vicious cycle could be worsened by the fact that Morocco depends on foreign imports to produce nitrogen, an important ingredient in fertilizers whose production requires natural gas.

Yet, Morocco has the ability to turn this potential vicious cycle into a virtuous one. By prioritizing its green energy initiatives, Morocco can expand its water and energy resources that in turn will help fuel a growing phosphate industry while having ample reserves for citizens and domestic agriculture.

“The future of Morocco’s role as a gatekeeper of global food supply chains will ultimately depend on its success at home in achieving energy transition to increase the sustainability of its fertilizer industry,” Tanchum analyzes.

Moroccan solutions

Morocco’s largest company, state-owned phosphate and fertilizer giant OCP Group, is already leading the way when it comes to addressing some of the African continent’s food security issues. Tanchum describes the rapid expansion of joint ventures in key African markets. These include vast fertilizer plants in gas-rich Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa.

In East Africa, OCP is building a massive fertilizer plant in Ethiopia, allowing for both eastern and western Africa to benefit from Moroccan phosphate riches, through joint ventures that take advantage of these nations’ hydrocarbon riches. Through this exemplary south-south cooperation, Morocco gains access to much-needed natural gas, while strengthening African food security and boosting Moroccan regional soft power.

“The success of OCP Africa’s holistic approach demonstrates both the centrality of fertilizer to food security and the necessity of enhancing local participation in value chains for fertilizer manufacturing and food production,” emphasizes Tanchum.

OCP Africa has already achieved remarkable results across Africa. Through the sharing of knowledge and technology, providing fertilizers tailored for specific soil types in Africa, and making mutually beneficial agreements, OCP has boosted agricultural yields in the countries where it operates.

Sustainable Morocco

Despite Morocco’s success in the region, much of its potential depends on the policy path the country takes in terms of domestic energy and water production. Tanchum highlights some of OCP’s ambitious sustainability targets, that seek to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, and have full energy independence by 2030 through renewable energy.

He additionally describes in detail how a sustainable future for Morocco requires massive investment in the country, by the Moroccan government, and foreign partners.

Morocco can wean itself off its reliance on foreign natural gas by producing green ammonia based on green hydrogen, made using only renewable energy. The country can also supply itself with plentiful water through desalination plants and smart irrigation systems. Yet these ambitions require rapid action, in Morocco and abroad.

Morocco’s energy production needs to be scaled up in a massive way, according to Tanchum. Moroccan green energy needs to not only fuel the country, it is needed to run a vast network of desalination plants, green hydrogen plants, as well as phosphate and fertilizer production facilities.

According to Tanchum’s research, “how Morocco performs its role as a gatekeeper of global food supply chains will ultimately depend on its success in achieving energy transition through the expansion of its renewable energy sector.”

Such an expansion requires foreign investment, and Tanchum expects foreign countries to line up to invest in, and strengthen ties with, Morocco. “Such investments provide the United States and Europe an opportunity to raise the level of their strategic engagement with Morocco,” Tanchum writes. He adds the ominous warning that “in the absence of such engagement, Morocco will partner with other regional and global actors, shifting the geopolitics of global food security.”

Original story on MWN

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