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Historical Context of Sustainability

Report On Phosphate Mining In Morocco

Executive Summary

As presented in the following report, the Moroccan phosphate industry is presented with issues for its function. The country is the largest holder of phosphate reserves.

The second-largest producer for the mineral needs to re-examine its processes to comprehend if it fits with sustainability principles. To ensure that the country is producing an ethically sound product, significant changes need to be made to how the mining process is handled.

As discussed in the report, phosphate mining has a significant impact on the environment and the population.

The government of the country, led by the state-owned company OCP has been taking significant measures to improve its stance of competition in the world market along with promoting sustainable phosphate mining.

However, there are still various changes that need to be made to ensure that the most in-demand resource of the world does not cost the environment significantly and the human resource that is involved in its production.


Moroccan phosphate, mining, waste disposal, environmental issues, cadmium

Overview of Resource / Industry

The Moroccan mining industry is dominated by the production of phosphate, its chief export product.

For example;

Phosphate from Morocco accounts for 14% of the world’s production in 2011(Walan and Davidsson, 2014).

• The country holds 75% of the world’s phosphate reserves (Tarradel, 2004).

• Ranked number two in the world for phosphate production (News Desk 2010).

The phosphate mining industry is dominated by Morocco and its competitors China and the The United States. Currently, China ranks top to produce 100 million tonnes (Mt) with 3.7 billion tonnes reserves (Sanaa et al., 2011).

Morocco, coming in second, with the production of 30 Mt of phosphate and holding 40 billion tones in reserve. Lastly, the United States produced 27.6 Mt in 2015 (Rachidi et al., 2015.)

Morocco is increasingly becoming a key player in the global phosphate industry, which is hypothesized to rise by 2020 with the production of 55 million metric tones due to the government’s increased investment into the sector (Carlson, 2012).

The demand for phosphate is rising around the world by 2.3% annually, with the OCP; mining the company owned by the Moroccan government is looking to increase its share in global exports by 30% by also capturing new demand (European Commission, 2013).

The OCP can extract 28 Mt of phosphate from its open-pit mines. The company uses it to produce 4.5 Mt of phosphate fertilizer that is used around the world to grow crops (International Fertilizer Industry Association, 2001).

However, the world’s population is expanding exponentially. With it comes the rise of food needs based on consumption trends, resulting in increased demand for phosphate fertilizer. Currently, world consumption growth is outpacing that of population growth (See graphs 3 & 6).

Figure 1- 2013 EU import of Phosphate Rock in Mt (Source; EU 2013)

Figure 2- Exporters of Phosphate by % share in Global Market

Figure 3- World Population Growth (Source; EU 2015)

Figure 4- Reserves of Phosphate (Mt) (Source; The Hague Centre 2012)

Figure 5- Global and Regional Per capital of food consumption (Source; WHO, 2013)

Figure 6- PR deposits currently being mined (Source; Zapata et al. 2004)

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Historical Context of Sustainability Challenges

Environmental Impact of Mining

The mining industry has been a key factor in the economic growth of Morocco. However, many mining sites have been abandoned over the years with rehabilitation over the years, resulting in major devastating environmental and socio-economic issues. Historically the Moroccan mining industry has caused much of the following;

• Impact of the mining industry on the environment (Zapata et al. 2004).

• Harmful material extraction from mine (White, 2015).

• Harmful disposal of waste from mine (Walan et al., 2014).

• Destruction of natural habitats and soil pollution (The Hague Centre, 2012)

• Runoff and groundwater pollution (The Hague Centre, 2012).

• Visual impact on the landscape of the country (The Hague Centre, 2012).

To address these various issues in the mining industry, the government has implemented various policies to integrate the mining process with sustainable development. A new procedure is enacted using the country’s laws related to environmental protection.

However, other issues have persisted in the country, including the number one problem affecting the country being desertification which is the root cause of other environmental and health problems.

It is caused by the increased salinization of the soil resulting in increased irrigation and depletion of water resources, ultimately leading to drying out the country's wetlands. (Carlson, 2012).

Water shortage is a deep concern in the country since 90% of the freshwater sources are used for agriculture with the available drinking water being polluted by sewage, waste, and mining by-products (Carlson 2012).

Social Impact of Mining

There are very few studies on the work-related illnesses or issues of Moroccan mine workers, especially those in the phosphate mining industry.

However, studies by Greenpeace and World Nuclear Associated have argued that Moroccan phosphate is particularly high in cadmium and uranium, heavy metals associated with illnesses like cancer, kidney failure, and various bone diseases (Bouchbika et al., 2013).

The radioactive by-product associated with mining phosphate, phosphogypsum, is generated from fertilizer production (Bouchbika et al., 2013). The by-product is released into the Atlantic, putting at risk the environment and humans.

Based on an early study from Rodier (1955), it was found that 150 miners had reported neurological symptoms, muscular weakness, paraplegia and pneumopathies (as cited in Lansdowne, 2014). Lastly, mining villagers face a lack of integration into sustainable development projects leaving behind socio-economic issues to spring up.

Improving Suitability

To tackle the various environmental and socio-economic problems to promote sustainability is necessary for the OCP and the Moroccan government implement the following recommendations;

• Adopt a policy that aims to integrate the mining process into social, societal, environmental and economic sustainable development.

• Improve agricultural efficiency in Morocco and around the world through optimizing land use and ensuring that good soil quality is maintained.

• Countries within the EU who are most dependent on the resource are to promote the efficient use of phosphate.

• Reduce the use of or substitute the use of phosphorous in products if alternatives are available.

   o In agriculture, there is no substitute for fertilizers without phosphorus.

   o In laundry and kitchen detergents, phosphate content can be reduced using appropriate legislation.

• Promote the recovery of phosphate and enable the creation of sustainable markets for
recycled phosphate.

• Leave the mine site in a stable and safe condition on mine closure;

   o Rehabilitation, sealing shafts, removing plant and equipment.

   o Social impact on the workforce and community associated with the closure of the mine may mean perusing developmental projects such as infrastructure repair, education and health through corporate social responsibility.

• Improved waste disposal methods;

  o Discharge of wastes in water bodies need to be accompanied by treatment to remove contaminants

  o Stacking of wastes using sand tailing and salt tailing.


The Moroccan mining industry for phosphate will see a significant boom in its production in order to compete with the world demand for phosphate products, particularly fertilizer.

However, it is important that the government, OCP and other mining companies, communities, and environmentalists come together to develop methods by which mining as an industry in the country can become sustainable.

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