The fallout of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic were enough to put the global food system at risk, but the outbreak of war sparked by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in February 2022 has threatened an international energy and food crisis.
Higher energy costs linked to the conflict in Ukraine have affected food systems in Europe and beyond. Food prices have skyrocketed and supplies are under strain across the world, as both Russia and Ukraine were grain-exporting powerhouses. But a key challenge stems from food growing itself: with Russia being a major fertilizer exporter, crop yields are under threat. On top of this, Europe and many countries across the world have witnessed record heat levels, continuous droughts and extreme climate events like fires and floods throughout the summer. The U.N. World Food Program has warned that these conditions, along with the fertilizer shortage, “could push an additional seven million people into food scarcity”. Indeed, these severe weather events are only expected to get worse, continuing to impact food production and agriculture. The ripple effects have hit Africa especially hard. Not only did the continent previously rely on over 40 percent of its wheat supply from Ukraine, but in May, fertilizer prices were said to have quadrupled since the start of the war, according to the African Development Bank. It is amid this backdrop that OCP Group has recalled the importance of it programs developed to help farmers around the world , focusing on their needs and involving them in a resilient agriculture approach. Founded over 100 years ago as a phosphate mining company based in Morocco, the company’s business has grown to span the entire cycle of plant nutrition, producing essential fertilizers to support global food security.
As the custodian of the world’s largest phosphate reserves, the group is thoroughly committed to ensuring food systems are sustainable and resilient. In OCP’s 2021 Sustainability Integrated Report, chairman and CEO Mostafa Terrab writes: “A crucial aspect of achieving sustainability in this regard must be ensuring economic and social inclusion for all food system actors – for the vital role they have to play in sustaining human life – as this is clearly broken. And never more so than in rural Africa.” Africa holds 65 percent of the world’s arable land, so the continent will play a vital role in feeding the world’s growing population.
Supporting Africans farmers
To support African farmers through this time of conflict , the group recently launched its largest-ever fertilizer relief program : an unprecedented contribution of 550,000 tons of phosphate-based fertilizers targeting food crops to mitigate the impact of soaring commodity prices.
OCP will donate 180,000 tons of fertilizer to smallholder farmers across the continent, based on need and potential impact, with 370,000 tons sold at discounted prices. It is estimated that these volumes will represent 16 percent of demand in Africa this year. Working with local strategic partners, the allocation is aimed at countries struggling to afford or access fertilizers due to the disruption in the global commodities markets.
For years, the group has engaged in supporting farmers across Africa, as smallholder agriculture is estimated to contribute up to 70 percent of the continent’s food supply and has recognized that – even excluding the stressors from the war in Europe and global climate crisis – smallholder farmers face a number of challenges that prevent them from improving productivity. These obstacles include access to markets, financing and sharing of skills.
Because it believes that sustainable plant nutrition will be the key to achieving sustainable and resilient agriculture, one of the key methods of the group’s support is through education: ensuring sustainable soil management by using the “4R” approach , the Right fertilizer at the Right rate, Right time and Right place. One of the company’s flagship programs, OCP School Lab , for instance, focuses on education through demonstrations and the installation of field schools. The program is designed to help farmers improve productivity by offering them a wide range of services, from demonstrations and interactive training sessions on good agricultural practices, to agronomy advice. Meanwhile, Agribooster initiative is a demand-creation program, connecting farmers to financing, insurance and markets through closed-loop partnerships. On average, farmers who participated in Agribooster had yield increases of around 45 percent, and investment returns of 77 percent. Since its launch in 2017, both programs have reached more than 1 million farmers across seven African countries. Another of OCP’s approaches includes soil mapping –30 million hectares of soil mapped to provide customized fertilizers and expanding product offerings to farmers. In Nigeria, for example, OCP AFRICA partnered with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to develop a new fertilizer solution to sustainably increase yields in the country’s eight maize-growing states. More than 3,000 soil samples were taken for analysis, with 928 field trials taking place to test the products. The tailor-made formulas contributed to a 24 percent increase in maize yield. In Ethiopia, meanwhile, the group partnered with digital soil fertility map EthioSIS to collect 80,000 soil samples and conducted 10,000 demonstration trials to test new balanced fertilizers. The country has since seen a 37 percent increase in maize yield. Fertilizer programs have also contributed to a 23 percent increase in potato yield in Rwanda, and 35 percent growth in rice yield in Ghana.
A CONNECTED PLANET
The strength of food systems in Africa will have ramifications across the world. Addressing food scarcity in crisis-stricken countries helps prevent famine-driven mass migration, but sustainable use of the continent’s vast arable land could also play a large part in supporting global food supplies. If all the continent’s vast array of arable land could be nurtured and utilized, and farmers given the right support, knowledge and technology to do this sustainably, it’s believed Africa could feed itself and much of the world. OCP Group’s projects – from technology, education to product supplies – could help unlock this potential, and for the group, this all starts with the soil: “Bringing Phosphorus to life.”
The group aims to put an extra 1.2 million tons of fertilizer on the global market by the end of this year, signifying Africa’s key role in the global food supply chain. It may be time for countries in the European Union to look to Africa, using suppliers like OCP Group as a supporting partner to reach autonomy and resilience in farming and food.