OCP Group, a world leader in the phosphate industry, becomes a member of the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform (ESPP) for the promotion of sustainable phosphate management. Phosphorus is a necessary mineral for the human diet, as well as necessary for global food security. This irreplaceable natural resource, which cannot be created artificially, is being depleted at an increasing rate.
Phosphorus is extracted from phosphate, and is present in every human cell because it is vital in the body's basic biochemical processes, obtained through food. In addition, phosphates are essential for producing crop fertilisers, so the demand for phosphorus is growing as the world's population increases and virtually all phosphate rock is mined in countries outside Europe.
Phosphorus is not treated sustainably. It disappears from the food chain as animal manure, human excrement and organic waste. This waste is washed downstream into the sea and stimulates massive growth of algae and plankton which then decompose, consuming the oxygen vital for marine life to exist in the area. This process results in "dead zones" where, due to the low concentration of oxygen in the water, marine life is unviable. To deal with the phosphorus problem, the ESPP, made up of multiple companies in the sector, was created.
Morocco is the world's leading producer and exporter of phosphates, with about 75 per cent of the world's reserves. The contribution of mining as a whole to GDP is estimated at around 6%. Morocco's exploitation of this mineral has been embroiled in a geopolitical conflict for decades: that of Western Sahara.
In 1963, a major phosphate deposit was discovered at Bu Craa, in the north of Western Sahara, to the south and slightly to the east of the city of Laayoune. Along with the phosphate mines, there is the possibility of untapped oil wells, which, together with the rich fisheries, make the Sahara a territory of great economic potential.
The former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and the Sahrawi people, led by the Polisario Front. Morocco advocates an autonomous solution, under Moroccan sovereignty, for this territory, while the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, rejects this solution and advocates self-determination and independence for the Sahara.
The referendum on self-determination, proposed by the UN, has not been held because the conditions for this option have never been met, not least because Rabat and the Polisario do not agree on the number of people who would be entitled to vote. Former US President Donald Trump supported the Alawite kingdom's sovereignty over Western Sahara towards the end of his term in office. The administration of current US President Joe Biden has also affirmed its support. This support has further increased international support for Morocco's broad autonomy initiative for Western Sahara under the sovereignty of the Alawi kingdom.
Today, Morocco controls not only the main towns and the rich fishing grounds along the Western Sahara coast, but also phosphate mining. As a result, control of this resource has become more than just an economic issue, given the legal issues and the dispute over national sovereignty over the territory.
The Moroccan government has also repeatedly claimed that it is pursuing a policy of development rather than exploitation of the Sahara's natural resources. An example of this is the Phosboucraa mine, which accounts for only 2 per cent of the mineral's production, but employs 10,000 Saharan inhabitants.
The phosphate mining company, OCP Group, is state-owned. By exporting three quarters of the world's phosphate, Morocco is responsible for the price of phosphate. This is why it is so important that the organisation has joined the ESPP, which aims to make phosphate consumption responsible and sustainable.
"The group will share its experience and best practices with ESPP's more than 40 members, as well as with its extensive network of researchers and industry players spanning the entire phosphate and phosphorus value chain, in order to reflect together on new and innovative ways to make optimal use of this resource," the group said in a press release. In addition, OCP recycles 80% of the water used in its phosphate rock enrichment processes, thus optimising water use throughout the value chain.