Moroccan Fertilizer Market in the Context of Russia-Ukraine War and Food Sovereignty Project

“Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste!” This was the title of a fascinating study1 made by the Filipino activist and writer Walden Bello, during the Corona pandemic crisis. It is a slogan practically espoused by capitalists and large business owners locally and globally, whenever there is a crisis, a war, a health crisis or an economic crisis.

The “Office Chérifien des Phosphates” [OCP] which monopolizes the production of fertilizers in Morocco is at the head of these companies, as confirmed by its President Mustafa Terrab on 11 October 2022, at the annual meeting between the Group, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, saying: “There is an opportunity in the current crisis to deal with the long-term balance and focus on the African continent because it is suffering from a major shortage”2.

What are the stakes of the largest monopolist of Moroccan phosphate production (OCP) in the African and international market? Does the State’s public finances benefit from that fertilizer revenue boom? What are the benefits for the small Moroccan farmer? Does OCP really contribute to ensuring “food security” and achieving food “sovereignty” as stated in the literature of the OCP Group?

1- Russia-Ukraine War and Global Fertilizer Market stakes

The Russia-Ukraine war (and before the Covid-19 pandemic) has disrupted global supply chains, both in terms of food and inputs, especially fertilizers. In fact, Russia is “the world’s largest fertilizer exporter with 15.1% of total fertilizer exports”3

The trade war is one of the weapons currently used between the two sides (Russia on the one hand, and Ukraine and the “West” on the other). To counter the economic sanctions against Russia, the latter relies on the dependence of the European Union and other parts of the world (especially Africa) on its production of fertilizers and on its position as the second largest producer of natural gas, a key component of all phosphorus fertilizers as well as nitrogen fertilizers: “The European Union relies… on Russia to get 30% of the fertilizer supply4.”

Within this context, Morocco, through the “Office Chérfien des Phosphates”, is seeking to position itself in the context of these current upheavals, namely because it considers itself the “gatekeeper of the global food supply chains,” although this elegant sentence merely means continuing the same specialty “everything is for exports” that has been allocated to Morocco in the division of international work since colonial era: the production of raw materials and at best their processing and transformation.

2- Huge international market

The fertilizer market is huge and attracts profit-makers. In 2020, its volume reached “about 190 billion US dollars… and in 2021, the global phosphorus fertilizer market [alone] was about US $59 billion5

As long as raising revenues remains the main concern in light of an opportunity/crisis that no one can guarantee its continuity, the statement made by the “Office Chérifiens des Phosphates” calling for “getting closer to the small farmers in the continent [i.e. Africa]” is only a softened formulation of invading the African market and searching for farmers who are able to buy fertilizers in a global economic context characterized by high gas prices and other agricultural inputs.

In fact, Morocco is one of the world’s leading exporters of fertilizers through the OCP, and these are some of the figures for 2021:6

3- Office Chérifiens des Phosphates: a major capitalist company

The OCP was founded in 1920 under the name of the “Office Chérifiens des Phosphates”. Because France (then the colonizer) was afraid of competition from other countries, Lyote, the then French General Resident, decided to “assign exploration and exploitation operations to the “Cherfian State and for its account” by virtue of the decree of January 27, 1920, in order to prevent foreign powers and companies from extending their control over this important resource7.” Moreover, they made sure to include in the statute of the OCP the idea that it is not a system of direct management by the State, which made of it “a type of institution that has only one shareholder: the State”, and this enabled it to combine the flexibility of the private sector with the rigidity of the public sector8.”

The “independence” State maintained the same management pattern: “a public institution having a civil character and financial independence under the administrative control of the Ministry of Economy 9.” The OCP has always been and continues to be one of the instruments of Moroccan monarchy for the development of domestic capital that respects its share in an imperialist international division of labour.

The King has the monopoly of appointing the general managers of the company, whose chairmanship is rotated among members of capitalist families and others who have held diplomatic positions. The most important being the current president Mustafa Terrab, who was previously the Chief Organization Specialist at the World Bank (Washington, 2002)10. The company is under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank through annual meetings.

In 1974, the Moroccan Fertilizer Company (Vertima), which was established in 1972, was acquired by the OCP, and in 1999 this company has been privatized, which had ultimately made the Fertilizer Company have a monopoly on meeting all local needs of phosphate fertilizers11.

However, the major turning point in the history of the OCP was on February 26, 2008, when it was turned into a Public Limited Company, and this was the beginning of its integration into the Moroccan banking capital, as on January 12, 2009, “the joint venture between the OCP Group and the Banque Centrale Populaire (BCP) took place, according to which the BCP acquired 5.88% of the OCP Group, and, similarly, the OCP Group acquired 6.6% of the capital of the BCP”12.

Consequently, the main concern of the Company would be to guarantee the profits of shareholders and abide by their directives, like all shareholding companies, as is expressed literally by its current chairman Mustafa Terrab, saying: “We have replaced the monopoly tax – at the time the Office Chérifiens des Phosphates was a public institution – with a policy of dividend distribution that allows public limited companies to pay their shareholders’ dues”13.

The capitalist perspective of the company is clear. They have appointed Mohamed Jamali as General Manager of ‘OCP Africa’. The latter had been for 3 years the Director General of Logdev Africa’s, specializing in real estate exploration and development for logistics activities, which is a branch of the National Transport and Logistics Company (SNTL). Since its establishment, OCP Africa has endeavored to “transform traditional and subsistence farming, the most widespread farming pattern in Africa… to farming that creates value and wealth14” The concepts of “value and wealth creation” are key concepts of the neoliberal choices of the State in Morocco and of the major capitalist groupings, on top of which comes OCP, a big investor and development Leader that creates “value and wealth”, whose effects will be extended later to other segments of society, according to the myth promoted by the World Bank literature.

The institution, classified as strategic, remains out of parliamentary accountability. The report of the judges of the Supreme Council of Auditors in March 2019 only published a summary that did not exceed 11 pages, concealing the details under the pretext of “the sensitivity of the aspects dealt with by the mission and the nature of the data used, whose publication could lead to harm to the interests of the complex15.”

4- Fertilizers: one platform among others to invade the African continent

The objective is therefore to transfer the experience of the agricultural policy adopted in Morocco (the Green Plan and currently the Green Generation Plan), a policy based on the stimulation of large capital investments in agriculture, as a pioneer of development, along with other sectors.

Morocco is not only exporting fertilizers, but also a large capitalist agricultural model, which Elias Fally, Managing Director of Corporate Strategy and Sustainability at OCP, has not concealed by saying: “Cooperation between the public and private sectors will be required in the future16.” The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is a private capital Trojan horse to break into sectors hitherto distant from it, or evade the cost of investing in its infrastructure, while monopolizing the fruits of its revenues and profits. In this context, the Moroccan delegation to the meeting of the African Peace and Security Council devoted to food security in Africa (May 2022) stressed “the need to adopt the necessary policies to stimulate economic and structural transformation in Africa17

What the OCP has been doing since 2015 is a sectoral implementation of a general strategy for large capital (local and global) and the state, which is included in a document issued by the Ministry of Finance, which states: “winning the confidence of companies as well as potential investors requires institutional updates for the sectors (authorized management, concession and privatization) … In this area, Morocco has a rich experience and a convincing level of experience… that can be shared with African countries”18.

5- Reproducing the hierarchy of the imperialist system

In its relationship with Africa, Morocco reproduces the same hierarchy that exists in the global market between imperialist countries/ center and affiliated countries/parties, especially when talking about “aid and discounted prices”: “A senior official of OCP said the group will offer 180 thousand tons of fertilizers as aid and 370 thousand tons at discounted prices to help African countries cope with increasing prices… In an interview with Reuters, Nada Al-Majdoub, Executive Vice President of Performance Management, said that the quantities offered and discounted account for 16% of African demand this year and a quarter of the sales of the OCP Group on the continent19”.

The logic of food assistance is destructive to local production and the small farmer, contrary to the claims of OCP representatives, as the channels to commercialize local products are narrowed and the local market is flooded with imported product and changing food habits. In addition, aid providers are always looking for the guaranteed success of their project. Long ago, Michel Husson and Thomas Courtot warned about this, saying: “This is how we see projects that claim to be “oriented towards the poorest”, distributing their wealth mainly to “advanced” farmers who are better off than the average farmer and who are supposed to be able to increase their production as quickly as possible20”.

OCP adopts the same criticism of the international financial institutions of third world countries regarding obstacles to private (capital) investment: “threats in some African countries, in this case, insecurity, lack of infrastructure, dominant subsistence agriculture, political instability, a failed legal framework that does not protect investors’ rights, corruption…”21. The objective is therefore to remove everything that prevents investors, especially the OCP, from invading the continent.

OCP started this process by “launching a Fertilizer Complex in Ethiopia, with an investment of US $3.7 billion22”, and “an agreement with Nigeria to build a fertilizer factory worth more than US $1.3 billion23.”

Proceeds of crisis

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, OCP’s revenues have risen significantly, as expressed with admiration by the CEO of the complex in an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine: “The increase in our sales volume in the context of a low cycle, which was also characterized by the complaint submitted by our American competitor, is a remarkable achievement”24.

In the same context, Aziz Rabah, Minister of Energy, Minerals and Environment, revealed that “the production of phosphate by the Office Chérifien des Phosphates increased by about 6.2% during 2020”25.

The same is true of the sales of OCP during the Russia-Ukraine war. It achieved “a sales value of about 25.33 billion dirhams during the first quarter of 2022, i.e. an increase of 77% compared to the results achieved during the same period last year”26.

A statement from OCP did not hide the reason for this result, saying, “The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has intensified the unstable context with regard to the balance between supply and demand within the phosphate market, which has led to a further increase in the prices of raw materials, particularly ammonia and sulfur”27.

The main question that can be raised here is: who are the beneficiaries of these colossal revenues? Will they contribute to mitigating the erosion of state revenues? Will their effects reach small-scale food producers and consumers?

The answer rests on the nature of the institution and the economic framework within which it operates, rather than on the stated intentions of state officials and the OCP.

7- Limits of the proceeds boom

This surge of revenues has limits, the most important of which are:

a. Heavy indebtedness:

OCP’s investments are mainly financed through debt. In 2018, these debts amounted to 35 billion dirhams28. The head of the Group, Mustafa Tarrab, justifies these debts with a turnover amounting to 55 billion dirhams and a net result of 5.4 billion dirhams, and the expectation of continued growth in demand and consumption. However, these projections do not consider the volatility of the global phosphate market, as any decline will lead to heavy indebtedness as well as over-extraction to maintain the same level of revenues.

Historical precedents justify this. After the rise in phosphate revenues in the early 1970s, the collapse of its price and the rise in the price of oil globally, combined with a harsh dry season, imposed “austerity measures and clean-up of public finances29“. From mid- 2007 to mid-2008, the price of crude phosphate was approximately US $400, which is equivalent to 10 times the price level before 2007 30, but this period led to the accumulation of a heavy debt legacy since returns are short-termed, while indebtedness is long-termed and with constraining conditions.

The size and cost of the indebtedness will worsen with the recent rise in interest rates by the Central Bank of the United States, and the Central Bank of Morocco adopted the same measure to reduce current inflation.

b. Competition and trade wars:

Competition in the international fertilizer market is very strong. The high revenue figure for 2020 is due to “reduced supply amidst declining Chinese exports and declining stocks in India and the United States31“.

This is in addition to the protectionism of the Northern countries, including the United States of America. In mid-2020, the company Mosaique filed complaints to the United States against the OCP for trade dumping. After investigation, the authorities gave Mosaique justice and decided in March to impose compensatory duties on exports of up to 19.97%.32

c. High Gas Prices:

Gas is a major component of all phosphorus fertilizers as well as nitrogen fertilizers. Morocco is a major importer of gas. Morocco’s consumption of natural gas is about 1 billion cubic meters per year, according to the statements of the Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, Dr. Leila Benali. In return, local gas production is about 110 million cubic meters per year only, which makes locally produced gas meet only 11% of Morocco’s total consumption of natural gas33. Higher gas prices will thus adjust the balance at the expense of revenues.

d. Chronic water scarcity:

Per capita water share decreased from 2,500 cubic meters in 1960 to 700 in 2019, a 75 % decline34. Phosphate production consumes a lot of water. Relying on desalination technology is very costly, as “Morocco’s increasing reliance on desalination plants to meet industrial, agricultural and residential needs will require significant new investments in renewable energy generation. Desalination plants require 10 times the amount of energy to produce the same volume of water as conventional surface water treatment35“.

8- What about the contribution of OCP to the state’s finances?

It should be noted at the outset that OCP enjoys free access to “Moroccan subsoil which significantly reduces its production costs35.” Although Mustafa Terrab referred to OCP “as a contributor or taxpayer that is not commensurate with what used to be the case37.” However, the Group continued, under the pretext of its high debts, “to demand from the state a VAT refund,” which the State did in 2018, when Mohamed Benshaboun, the then Minister of Finance, stated that “the state, at the end of June 2018, is no longer a debtor to the Group, as it fully refunded VAT arrears of 20.4 billion dirhams38”.

Apart from what is called in the capital logic “external costs”, that is, over-extraction39 and destruction of the environment, the law of the market makes States with export economies vulnerable in both cases: raising the volume of production in the event of higher prices on the world market to achieve the highest revenues, as well as raising it in the event of lower prices to maintain previous levels of revenue, thus depleting that natural wealth. During the Covid-19 pandemic, OCP managed to “compensate for the decline in prices in the international market by increasing the quantities of products exported40“.

As for the environment, the OCP slogan “More and better production, with less pollution” applies only to the first part of the slogan. The OCP plans to produce an additional 8.2 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer by 2026. Production now stands at about 12 million tons41. As for environmental damage, the report of the judges of the Supreme Council of Auditors (March 2019) didn’t share any detail relating to the environmental impact of OCP mining activity.

9- The small farmer: Waiting for a flow that does not come

The much-promoted “flow theory” of the World Bank is based on the idea that “the positive fallout of growth flows in favor of the richest at first, but eventually reaches the poorest. It is therefore in the best interest of the latter that growth be as strong as possible, because the scraps of wealth that reach them depend on it. Indeed, if growth is weak, the rich retain a greater share than if growth were strong42.

However, small farmers are rather impacted by reality, not theories. High prices for fertilizer inputs, mainly the imported natural gas, as well as the global pricing of phosphate will only lead to increasing fertilizer prices on the world market, to the detriment of small farmers.

Fertilizer prices in the local market increased by 41% in the agricultural season 2021-2022, compared to the previous season43. In September 2022, the international rating agency Fitch Rating revealed expectations that the price of Moroccan fertilizers would increase from the current $200 per ton to $270 by the end of the current year, due to global storage fears and constraints44.

Sugar production is among the most affected sectors. To stimulate the start of the agricultural season 2021-2022, farmers cooperatives in the sugar sector benefited from good and stable prices of fertilizers throughout the agricultural season despite the high prices in the national and international market. However, the upward trend in fertilizer prices in the global market is undermining this support along with the farmers’ revenue margin, as was acknowledged by the report of the “Interim Thematic Working Group on Food Security in the House of Counsellors” on “Food Security.” The report stipulates “However, since September 2021, until now, fertilizer prices have remained in an upward trend at the national and international market level, especially nitrogen fertilizers… Potash fertilizers, potash chloride and potash sulphate, also saw a rise in prices by about 42% to 830 dirhams a quintal and 1300 dirhams a quintal, respectively.” The report finds that: “as a result, the current price level in the national and international markets will increase the costs of fertilization of sugar crops by about 4700 dirham/ha, which will lead to a decrease in the net profit margin for farmers by 23%, approximately 240 million dirhams in total45“.

The high prices of inputs, including fertilizers and fuel, provoked the protest of unionized farmers. The members of the Federation of Professional Unions in Morocco organized a strike accompanied by protest marches for three days 26, 27 and 28 October 2022. These were the big farmers who own the plowing and harvesting machines, while the small farmers are non-unionized, and awaiting divine mercy or the scant support provided by the state46.

 10- Are there any alternatives?

OCP speaks of food security and energy transition, while the report of the “New Development Model Committee” appointed by the King addressed the concept of “food sovereignty”. However, all these concepts have been robbed from militant movements while keeping the same major capitalist options in the agricultural sector, as in the economy.

OCP’s writings build on the concept of food security of global organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as being “the ability of the individual to secure food.” By focusing on the concept of the individual rather than the collective, and on the concepts of supply and demand, these institutions (including, of course, the OCP), maintain the principle of the commodification of food production and ensure its monopoly in the hands of large, efficient, high-capacity corporations in the same productivist/extractive perspective.

In a report released by OPC in 2020, it is stated that “thinking beyond the current crisis, we recognize that to ensure long-term food security, the entire value chain must come together to improve the way we produce, process, and consume food. The OCP is a vital player in this value chain, and has been at the forefront of innovation in the fertilizer industry47”. Thus, reducing “feeding the planet” to mere technical measures, without asking who determines farming policies? What are features of the real estate structure? who monopolizes the land? Who produces and for whom? And what about the question of OCP structuring and the transformations it has undergone since its transformation into a shareholder company and its integration with the bank capital, and its escape from the control of the legislative institution… etc.

In this context, any gains the company makes will only badly affect small farmers and the final consumer, while large revenues will be spent on paying its investment debts, shareholder contributions and the large salaries of its administrative staff.

The company should return to public ownership under citizen, popular and labor control, and fertilizers should be provided to the local market in the first place, coupled with a major role for the state in price control, the cessation of generous subsidies directed at large capital investment to the benefit of small farmers, and access to public bank financing at very low prices for small food producers.

Achieving food sovereignty will not be possible within such a capitalist logic that currently prevails at the heart of the OCP. Revenues will increase whenever the international context would be favorable, then they will be dilapidated as usual, and whenever prices fall, the existing reserves will be squeezed. However, the small farmer will always be that unheard-of soldier who has to carry the burden of a portion of the company’s very high revenues.

Mohamed Boulalame: Researcher / Morocco

  1. The website of the North African Network for Food Sovereignty at the following link:
  2. -12/10/2022,
  3. “How Morocco could use its Solar Energy and abundant Phosphorous to Feed the World and Offset Russia”, by Michaël Tanchum, Universidad de Navarra, July 10, 2022,
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. “Top Fertilizers Exports by Country”, by Daniel Workman, Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Field Listing: Exports-Commodities. Accessed on May 16, 2022,
  13. 4/°6/202 .
  14. -20/09/2022,
  15. Al-Akhbar Al-Yawm Newspaper, March 20, 2019.
  16. “Le groupe OCP offre à l’Afrique 550.000 tonnes d ‘engrais”, Mehdi Ouazzani MEHDI OUAZZANI, 21 July 2022,
  17. ” CPS de l ‘UA: La sécurité alimentaire en Afrique, une priorité du Maroc dans le cadre de l ‘action africaine commune (Ambassadeur)”, 09 May 2022, %C 3% A9curit %C3% A9-alimentaire-en-afrique-une-priorit %C3%A9-du-maroc-dans-le.
  18. “العلاقات المغربية الإفريقية، الطموح إلى حدود جديدة”، وزارة الاقتصاد والمالية، مديرية الدراسات والتوقعات المالية، ماي 2015،
  19. “Le groupe OCP offre à l’Afrique 550.000 tonnes d ‘engrais”, Mehdi Ouazzani MEHDI OUAZZANI, 21 July 2022,
  20. “على أبواب القرن الواحد والعشرين، أين أصبح العالم الثالث؟”، توماس كوتور وميشيل هوسون، ترجمة نخلة فريفر، الدار الجماهيرية للنشر والتوزيع والإعلان، ص 155. 177.
  21. “OCP Group: Grand garant de la sécurité alimentaire en Afrique subsaharienne”, Par Abdelaziz RHEZALI, 24 September 2021,
  22. Ibid
  23. “Exclusif – Mostafa Terrab : « Le futur d ‘OCP, c ‘est le développement vert » (1/2)”, 27 mai 2021, Par Estelle Maussion et Julien Clémençot,
  24. June 4, 2021,
  25. 14/06L2021,
  26. 17/05/2022
  27. ibid
  28. 26/03/2019.
  29. “المغرب الممكن، إسهام في النقاش العام من أجل طموح مشترك”، تقرير الخمسينية، مطبعة دار النشر المغربةي، الدار البيضاء، 2006، ص 143.
  31. 10/23/2021
  32. “Exclusif – Mostafa Terrab : « Le futur d ‘OCP, c ‘est le développement vert » (1/2)”, 27 mai 2021, Par Estelle Maussion et Julien Clémençot,
  33. 2022-09-22,
  34. “Impacts de la stratégie nationale de l’hydrogène vert d sur les ressources en eau au Maroc”, Atelier thématique-Organisations de la Société Civil, Henrich Poll Stiftung et Mena Renewables et Sustunability, Rabat-Maroc, 23 July 2022.
  35. “How Morocco could use its Solar Energy and abundant Phosphorous to Feed the World and Offset Russia”, by Michaël Tanchum, Universidad de Navarra, July 10, 2022,
  36. June 4, 2021, »,
  37. Ibid
  38. 24/10/2018,
  40. 21-11-2022,
  41. “How Morocco could use its Solar Energy and abundant Phosphorous to Feed the World and Offset Russia”, by Michaël Tanchum, Universidad de Navarra, July 10, 2022,
  42. “البنك العالمي، تاريخ نقدي”، إريك توسان، ترجمة ونشر جمعية أطاك المغرب عضو لجنة إلغاء الديون غير الشرعية، أبريل 2022، ص 197.
  43. 01/11/2021,
  44. 20/09/2022,
  45. “الأمن الغذائي بالمغرب، تقرير”، مجموعة العمل الموضوعاتية المؤقتة حول الأمن الغذائي بمجلس المستشارين، يوليوز 2022، ص 114- 115.
  46. 28/09/2022,
  47. “Sustainability Report, Working Together for Sustainable Agriculture”, OCP, 2020.