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Morocco’s OCP Africa: Blueprint for an African Green Revolution?

Jorf Lasfar, a few kilometers from #Casablanca, here over 2 million tonnes of phosphoric acid per year are produced!
Jorf Lasfar plant. Photo by OCP

Rabat – The role of agriculture in economic development cannot be overstated. In fact, there seems to be, in the literature of development studies, an overwhelming consensus on the centrality of agriculture in achieving sustainable economic development.

In sub-Saharan Africa, however, policymakers and other stakeholders have, so far, been frustratingly failing to satisfy the requirements of a successful and productive agricultural sector, leading, as a result, to food insecurity, hunger, and extreme poverty. Sub-Saharan agriculture is lagging, sluggish, and fails to feed a booming and vibrant population. The region is in dire need of an agricultural revolution.

Today, these are questions any sub-Saharan government should be attending to: How do we attain food security and self-sufficiency in the next decade? How do we, as a nation, ensure that citizens’ nutritional needs are satisfactorily met, while lifting thousands out of poverty?

In February 2016, as if in direct response to such concerns, the Office Cherifien de Phosphates (OCP) announced its African venture plan: OCP Africa. Amongst the many goals that OCP Africa listed in its “African venture’s” roadmap, the group put a particular stress on helping the region rise up to the challenges of meeting food security and improved crops production.

OCP Africa as South-South Cooperation

After launching the Africa Fertilizer Complex in February 2016, by March of the same year, 9 subsidiaries were established in Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, and Kenya. This, OCP said, was part of a larger strategic vision to secure “the cornerstones of development in Africa”.

And towards the end of 2016, OCP extended its venture to some other countries, including Rwanda, Mozambique and Ethiopia. To date, the group has about 14 sub-Saharan subsidiaries. Most importantly, projects to build fertilizer plants are on the verge of completion in some of the cited countries.

“Strongly committed to South-South cooperation, development, we put Africa at the heart of our growth plan using a personalized approach, which led to the creation of OCP Africa. The newly created subsidiaries aim at meeting the challenge of a structured, efficient, and sustainable agriculture”, said OCP’s chief Mostafa Terrab in the group’s 2016 annual report.

Describing the group as an “African company” unfailingly committed to satisfying the growing needs of an expanding African population, Terrab went on to point out that in 2016 alone, OCP’s African exportations increased by 70%.

As to the rationale behind such a bold and assertive sub-Saharan venture, OCP is clear in its 2016 annual report: “Africa’s central role in the new Moroccan cooperation strategy and the continent’s enormous potential for growth are behind OCP’s interest in adopting a proactive approach to developing sustainable African agriculture.”

In this sense, OCP Africa can genuinely contribute to unleashing Africa’s inner strength and realizing Africa’s dream of self-reliance because, essentially, OCP’s cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa is an intra-African cooperation; it is simultaneously a marriage of love and convenience.

But can OCP really help leapfrog sub-Saharan Africa’s lagging agriculture? Can the group, as defined in its “African objectives”, help realize an African-style Green Revolution?

Fertilizers are the new boys in town

OCP owes its global reputation to an expanding global population and an increasing global demand for phosphate and kindred products. And as of recently, the group is, by far, the global leader in the production and exportation of fertilizers and phosphate products. Furthermore, with Morocco being home to 70% of global reserves of phosphates, it can safely be said that OCP’s unrivaled control on the fertilizer market will remain unchallenged for years to come.

As such, even in a region that, in its level of agricultural productivity, has lagged behind all other regions of the world, one can make a very robust case for OCP’s potentials to rekindle agriculture and reach sustainable growth and prosperity.

It has been observed that contrary to farmers in other parts of the world, sub-Saharan farmers make no or little use of chemical fertilizers. The result, by and large, is poor crop yields and a ridiculously low supply of staple food and some other basic necessities. While, for example, a North American farmer yields up to 12 tons of maize by hectare of arable land, his sub-Saharan counterpart can only reap up to 1 ton.

This massive disparity between the efforts invested and the production obtained explains the desperation that is befalling many African farmers, not to mention the increasing lack of safe, affordable and nutritious food that is the lot of many sub-Saharan states. In such a context, if African policymakers and entrepreneurs are serious about the “Africa We Want” narrative, a motto popularized by a 2015 African Union Commission report, the use of chemical fertilizers is now a political imperative.

In 2016, while global average use of fertilizers was 120 kg/ha, Africa’s was a mere 21kg/ha; no wonder then that the continent imports one-third of what it consumes. But with a population exponentially growing and expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, Africa can no longer afford to delay its agricultural revolution: now is the time to take that much overdue leap of faith: encourage the use of chemical fertilizers, introduce farmers to mechanized means of production, and invest in agriculture-related research. To successfully do that, why bother looking elsewhere when the continent is already home to the world’s leading producer of fertilizers?

How OCP Africa can help realize “Africa rising”

In 2003, The Economist called Africa “a hopeless continent”, a bleak and dark place which the entire globe had given up on. A decade later, in March 2013, acknowledging the rapid changes and the palpable wind of economic transformations that were blowing through the entire continent, the outlet published a laudatory article that called Africa “a continent of hope”, and saying “Africa is rising”. “Africa is rising” has since been the subject of numerous controversies.

Without dwelling on a controversy in which there is nothing new or original left to say, it is safe to argue that OCP Africa can help realize the dream of an Africa that is truly “rising”. In fact, the original Africa rising narrative puts a disproportional emphasis on GDP growth, which, though commendable, does not focus on the daily hurdles of African populations.

As Rwanda’s former minister of agriculture Agnes Kalibata put it, “Growth in agriculture is 11 times more effective than growth in any other sector.”With OCP’s technical expertise, its policy of ‘greater outreach to small farmers’, and its unsurpassed acumen in the production of fertilizers, the group can help its African partners capitalize on the abundant potentials and opportunities of the continent’s agricultural sector, thus realizing a growth that is green, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable.

Since venturing into sub-Saharan markets in 2016, OCP has signed numerous contracts with private and public shareholders, trained and introduced thousands of farmers to the efficient use of fertilizers around Africa, helped various governments in their national agricultural caravans, and heavily invested in agriculture-oriented research.

The Ethiopian government, for example, signed with OCP a strategic partnership that will see the construction in the country of a world class fertilizer plant—production is estimated to start by 2022 with an annual capacity of 2.5-3.8 metric tons. A similar strategic partnership has been signed with Rwandan government.

In Nigeria, two such partnerships—one with Dangote Group to build a fertilizer plant in Edo state, and another with the country’s association of fertilizer producers and suppliers to boost fertilizer use and availability on the local markets as well as provide technical support to farmers—have also been signed. In July last year, over 5000 small farmers in Nigeria’s Kaduna state took benefited from an OCP-led ‘Agribooster Scheme’: they were trained and subsidized to use high-quality fertilizers to improve their crop yields. If the continent is to gain and maintain momentum, perpetuating such initiatives is desperately needed.

In its second Lions on the Move report, Mckinsey Global Institute found that Africa needs more substantially big African companies to power growth and meet the imperative demand of substituting imports of manufactured goods. As such, mobilizing local resources, nurturing and deepening regional integration, and investing in agriculture to improve the quality of African lives should no longer be the sole preserve of political meetings or policy briefings: it is an urgent imperative and needs implementing now.

By 2050, Africa’s food need is expected to triple, and the dream of a prosperous and self-reliant Africa is untenable if the continent is to remain a net importer of agricultural products. So, in the continent’s current nutritional state of volatility and extreme insecurity, embracing and capitalizing on OCP Africa will be an added value to the continent’s goal of diversifying national economies and improving lives. To think otherwise is pure fantasy.

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