A worldwide demographic explosion has placed enormous pressure on the environment and natural resources, leading to climate change, and by implication, food shortages and food insecurity for millions of people around the world. The already precarious state of the global economy has been significantly worsened by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Consequently, international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) have warned of a looming widespread food crisis as hunger threatens stability in dozens of countries, especially in the Global South where governments and individuals are struggling to cope with the soaring food and fuel prices. While the UN’s humanitarian aid in these countries is limited and inadequate at best, boosting food production could be the key to alleviating the crisis and meeting a rising global demand for food.

 

However, the challenges facing this ambition are legion, ranging from the increasingly depleted agricultural soils and shrinking arable lands, to irrigation water scarcity, climate variability, desertification, and drought. Yet, experts believe that phosphates and phosphorus fertilizers can play a pivotal role in boosting agriculture worldwide and ensuring sustainable food production to feed the world. Morocco, which has 70% of the world’s phosphates reserves, can therefore be pivotal in protecting world food security. The growing interest in Morocco as an exceptional geopolitical partner for Europe and the United States, against the backdrop of a heightened geo-economic war of attrition between the West and Russia, explains the strategic position Morocco occupies today with respect to global food security.

 

A recent report by the Middle East Institute addresses the shifting political and economic dynamics amidst the war in Ukraine, with Morocco repositioning itself as a strategic player on the international stage with plans to increase its fertilizer output by nearly 70%. This decision is expected to counter Russia’s alleged weaponization of the food-energy nexus to pressurize and weaken its Western rivals.  All 27 of the European Union countries depend on the Russian Federation for 30% of their fertilizer supplies, which poses one of the biggest liabilities for both Europe and Africa. Morocco is the fourth largest fertilizer exporter in the world, and if it were to increase its production in 2022 by only 10%, it would bring an additional 1.2 million tons on the global market by the end of the year.

 

Russia, the second largest producer of natural gas (a key ingredient in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers), exacerbated food price inflation worldwide after its February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the war has driven prices even higher, making fertilizers an “existential necessity” for global food security. Worse, the world’s two largest exporters of fertilizers, Russia and China—which together account for 28.4% of global exports—have also imposed export restrictions on these substances. Recognizing that the lack of supply of these substances could have disastrous consequences for Africa, such as famines and mass migrations, Morocco made the decision to increase its fertilizer production.

 

Executive Vice President of Performance Management at the state-controlled Cherifian Phosphates Office (OCP), Nada Al-Majdoub, previously confirmed that the office seeks to increase production by more than 10 % this year to meet the increasing global demand. She added that OCP plans to raise its output from 10.8 million tons last year to 11.9 million tons in 2022 and increase annual production capacity by another 3 million tons in 2023. The Middle East Institute report called “commercially prudent” the decision to increase Morocco’s share in the global market, similar to Saudi Arabia-s efforts in the global oil market. This will allow Morocco effectively to become the central storebank for global fertilizer production and the facilitator of food supplies around the world.

 

Africa features as an important consideration in Morocco’s developmental plans, reflecting King Mohammed VI’s vision for the continent. In a speech he addressed to the participants at the Abidjan Summit on Drought and Sustainable Land Management on May 9, 2022, he called for the establishment of “a genuine African alliance to combat drought” and to allocate appropriate financial and technological resources to ensure effective action.

 

Speaking at the “Africa Day” ceremony hosted by the National Library of the Kingdom of Morocco on June 8, 2022, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Moroccans Residing Abroad, Nacer Bourita, highlighted that Morocco has a clear vision for the future of Africa. This vision was launched by His Majesty King Mohammed VI in light of the geostrategic changes taking place on the continent that require an investment in both bilateral and continental diplomatic relations. In this regard, Mr. Bourita pointed out that food security is one of the areas where Moroccan solidarity with the continent is evident and that the Kingdom has signed more than 38 agreements with 18 African countries with respect to agriculture. OCP’s plans align well with the royal vision, as evident in its establishment of OCP Africa in 2016 to develop sustainable agriculture across the continent.

 

Agriculture generates 30% of Africa’s GDP and employs 55% of the workforce, and the continent’s prosperity depends on the development of its agricultural sector. With 65% of the world’s arable land located in Africa, progress in the development of its agricultural sector is increasingly important for global food security. Accordingly, Morocco has also strengthened its strategic role in the food security of sub-Saharan Africa through its Agriboost program. OCP has established joint ventures with several African countries to process rock phosphate for the extraction of phosphorus, a key ingredient in the fertilizer industry. This is paving the way for the operation of OCP subsidiaries in more than 12 African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.

 

So far, Agriboost has benefited more than 630,000 farmers in Africa, and significantly increased crop yields. The corn crop in Nigeria, for example, has increased by 48%. Senegal’s millet crop, millet being a staple food in some countries, has increased by 63%. Similar results have been observed in other countries such as Ethiopia where wheat, corn, and teff yields increased by more than 37%.

 

The OCP’s strategic expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa and the promising results it has thus far achieved with respect to food production in food-insecure countries undermines Moscow’s strategic threat of weaponizing the food-energy nexus in its conflict with Europe. Thus, Rabat is demonstrating its growing importance to Europe and the United States as a geopolitical partner in sub-Saharan Africa. As the geo-economics of interdependence and convergence bring Africa’s geopolitical importance to greater prominence, Europe and the US’ strategic engagement with Morocco is likely to intensify in the coming years.