A very fundamental factor for survival is food. This is why nations strive to attain food security. But this requires countries’ increasing their farm yields. OCP Nigeria, a sub-set of OCP Group, a fertiliser producing company with headquarters in Morrocco, is partnering the Federal Government, through Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), in developing the ammonia fertiliser industrial plants. Its Managing Director, Mohammed Hettiti, speaks on the firm’s plans, and efforts at increasing the food basket in the country, among others, in this interview with DANIEL ESSIET.

 

Nigeria is set to emerge as one of the largest fertiliser producers. What role is OCP Nigeria playing in this?

As a global player in phosphate fertiliser production, OCP is partnering the Federal Government, through the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), in developing the Ammonia and DAP industrial plants. This will help utilise and transform the abundant gas the country possesses as well as the phosphate from Morocco to fertilisers for the benefit of Nigeria’s farmers and neighbouring countries. With over a century experience, OCP will bring on board the needed expertise and knowledge needed to maximise/optimise the utilisation of this natural resource for the benefit of the agriculture landscape and economy in general through downstream economic balance.

Where does Nigeria’s advantage lie in fertiliser production?

It lies in its access to large gas reserves, access to international water, huge agricultural potential, young, intelligent, and energetic work force. Nigeria will be the hub for fertiliser for the West African region in no time. This abundant gas will be used to produce either urea or ammonia-based fertiliser and, if combined with other elements, like phosphate and potassium, NPK fertiliser can be produced from it. The drive by the government and its West African counterparts to improve logistic infrastructure, for example, rail and highways, across the sub-region, will be a big boost to trade in Nigeria produced fertiliser.

What factors do you think would stand in the way of this country becoming one of leading producers of chemical fertiliser?

I see nothing standing in the way, because President Muhammadu Buhari has also shown strong support and commitment to see the project come to reality. If you agree with me, President Buhari’s desire for the country has been that of driving self-sufficiency in the production of food and for you to have food self-sufficiency, the country needs to optimise the natural and human resources available to it to support its agriculture agenda. Now some challenges that should be overcome include logistic and infrastructural development e.g. rails, and road network.

How will rising production level across Africa and an increasingly competitive global market limit returns in the long term?

Rising production in Africa will help in servicing the increasing demand for food. The world’s population is projected to increase by additional 1.9 billion people between 2020 and 2050, out of which 1.2 billion will be from Africa. This means the bulk of the world’s population growth is predicted to take place in Africa; hence the need to increase production level in Africa to help cushion the effect of increasing demand for food for now and the future. The challenge before Africa is such that players have to rather focus on collaboration than competition in meeting the immediate and future food and all-round productivity need of the continent.

There is a growing partnership between Morocco and Nigeria to promote a large-scale expansion of the chemicals industry. How will this impact the value of fertiliser exports?

The Nigeria-Morocco partnership has helped Nigeria become a local producer of fertiliser as against being an importer of finished fertiliser. This is so possible with the partnership between Nigeria and Morocco as nitrogen (that is in abundance in Nigeria) is blended with phosphate from Morocco to produce locally blended NPK fertiliser. With partnership on the development of an industrial fertiliser plant, Nigeria will be an exporter of fertiliser. This development will help reduce the pressure on the exchange rate as more foreign currency will be earned in addition to the jobs to be created.

Is there any way changing trends in the global market may have put on your company stepping up exports to some rapidly expanding markets? Where do you have your largest buyers of fertiliser?

Across African countries regardless of language, the developmental approach of OCP towards agriculture is very well embraced and appreciated. We are making significant impact in many countries through collaborative engagement with the local private players and governments.

In terms of growth markets, which countries in Africa do you see as key focus areas for the future?

Obviously, I am in Nigeria, because of its huge and enormous potential ranging from current population, to future projected population, land size, arable land and, finally, the percentage of youth population. But my colleagues in other regions will say the same that way I will say we are not losing sight of the fact that the entire Africa has to develop, especially leveraging agriculture as we have a drive to reposition Africa into the future and spread opportunities for its people.

What is your message to investors outside looking to invest in the agric sector?

Given all the above potential in Nigeria, Nigeria will be the next big destination for whoever intends to access the African market.

When it is the Sokoto phosphate-based fertiliser plant taking off?

The Sokoto Plant is ongoing and will be delivered by the end of this year.

You have blending plants in Kaduna and Ogun states.  What is going to be the status of the Akwa Ibom Ammonia plant?

The blending plants in Kaduna and Ogun states will commence operation this year. These blending plants are expected to introduce various formulas tailored to farmers’ customised needs, provide modern production capacity for the players in the fertiliser industry, help expand supply to meet market growth and stabilise the market, especially during the peak season. The Ammonia and DAP plants in Akwa Ibom,which is a Joint Venture (JV) investment between OCP and NSIA, is taking complementary benefit of both countries’ natural resources for fertiliser production and it is expected to be delivered in 2025. The plant, at completion, will produce DAP as raw materials needed for local fertiliser blenders as well as ammonia to be exported to OCP Morocco.

Beyond this year, what are your plans for expansion, especially for agri-solution to many states?

Since its inception in 2016 in Nigeria, OCP has partnered several state governments and private entities to provide agri-solution to  farmers. Several initiatives have been developed and implemented to address different problems along the agricultural value chain.  Also, the execution of research and development project with research institute to develop the right fertiliser solution for the farmers taking cognisance of our diverse soil conditions and crops of interest as we are working on more than eight crops (maize, rice, tomato, palm oil, sorghum, wheat, potato, cocoa, and cassava).

Other OCP initiatives that are linked directly to the farmers are OCP Agri-booster- an end-to-end value chain solution – that provides farmers with access to quality farm input, training/extension services, input financing and market linkage for increased productivity.

OCP School Lab (OSL) – a mobile soil testing laboratory that provides farmer training, soil testing and fertiliser recommendations.

OCP Farm & Fortune Hub – a last-mile distribution channel solution that provides access to farm inputs, training, extension service and soil testing to farmers in underserved and interior farming communities. OCP Empowering African Youth (EMAY) project is committed to raising certified young Agric community leaders who are empowered with digital soil testing kits, tricycles and electronic tablets to become agricultural experts who provide Agri-solution smallholder farmers.

Other initiative include Farm & Fortune TV & radio programme for stakeholder sensitisation and Farm and farm Fortune Digital Platform, a platform where Farmers and Stakeholder access valuable information provided by other initiatives; such as Agribooster, School Lab, Farm & Fortune Hub, and Agronomy through the Udongo App.

How can Nigeria leverage Morocco’s increasing investment in education and research and development (R&D) to support the development of the fertiliser industry?

Firstly, Nigeria has been among the topmost beneficiary of Morocco’s investment in fertiliser R&D. Morocco, through OCP, is investing significantly in research & development as a means of modernising farming in Nigeria. Over the past four years, OCP has invested over $3million in sponsoring research and development of soil and crop-specific fertiliser formulations for staple crops such as rice, maize, oil palm, wheat, potatoes, soybean, cassava, sorghum and tomatoes in partnership with local and international research agencies such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); National Cereal Research Institute (NCRI); Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN); and the National Root Crops Research Institute (NCRI). Other research partners include the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR); National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT); Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training (AR&T), Ibadan; the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria; Nigerian Institute of Soil Science (NISS), Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN) among other.

Another area is the partnership between University Mohammed VI Polytechnic – UM6P and Nigeria university in sharing of knowledge and resources. Examples of this partnership are UM6P – University of Abuja partnership, UM6P – Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi (ATBU) Partnership, UM6P – Bayero University, Kano partnership.

Also is the OCP partnership with Kaduna State University, where grant for research, supply of agricultural textbooks, supply of laboratory equipment and awarding of scholarship for students. That is the one of many projects that are in the pipeline. Others will be revealed in no time.

What type of partnership do you have with NSIA, FESPAN and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to boost food production through increased fertiliser usage?

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the country was able to aggressively promote investment capital in the development of local production capacity for blended fertilisers through the partnership between NSIA, the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers of Nigeria (FEPSAN) and OCP Africa under the programme of the Federal Government known as Presidential Fertiliser Initiatives (PFI). Morocco supplies some raw materials for local blender at competitive price on a Country to Country Support Collaboration to Nigeria, to help support the domestic blending of NPK Fertilizer and create jobs for Nigerians since 2017. Two years into the partnership, Nigeria could produce the totality of its need locally; also, technical support was provided to the players, supporting them to develop the industry.

Currently, the country can boost of over 40 blending plant with over five million metric tonne (mt) blending capacity, and over 100,000 jobs created, thanks to the partnership.

What about the media and technology channels you are using to enable smallholder farmers to access agronomic advice?

Farmer development using technology is OCP’s primary goal. OCP has developed a digital platform called Udongo, that aims to unlock digital opportunities in the agricultural sector and spur collaboration between actors in the value chain.

 

 

The Udongo platform cuts across OCP Nigeria projects (Agribooster, School Lab, One-Stop Shop, Agronomy, etc) with the aim of enhancing the productivity of farmers and collaborations in the Agric value chain.

Other objectives for setting up Udongo is to enhance collaboration among value providers and consumers in the ecosystem, improve operational efficiency of the actors in the value chain, create easy access to quality inputs and agriculture produce, increase the use of improved agricultural inputs in farming and promote digitisation in the industry. This digital solution is available for stakeholders to access and use free of charge. Also, we used COVID-19 opportunities to develop new channel to communicate with farmers through TV and radio: indeed, Farm and Fortune TV show and radio programmes are our new tools to reach farmers and give them advise on good practice. Also these programmes allow them to know their soil better because we do soil analysis for different region. We also invite expert to advise stockholders around farming activities and we evaluate the lesson learnt as we analyse the success story or fall for better understanding and lessons for others; Radio transmission have the same objective but aired in different languages and at different time .

Aside from teaching farmers the latest in fertilisation technologies, do you have software to assist farmers to predict yields?

This is the part of technology called OCP Agro+. OCP Agro+ is a digital platform for soil nutrient management that help farmers make informed decisions on the new specific formulas per territory (site-specific fertilisers) that will help to guarantee yield increment through provision of adapted fertilisers recommendations. This solution will provide a smart method for developing new adapted formulas based on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and geo-referenced soil tests all aimed at increased fertiliser productivity.

What Hettiti about the tailor-made turnkey solutions you provide to farmers in the form of fertiliser, pesticides, and seeds, among others?

OCP Agribooster- an end-to-end value chain solution that help provides farmers with access to quality farm input, training/extension services, input financing and market linkage for increased farmers’ yield and revenue through stakeholder partnerships. From 2017 to date, 210,000 farmers across rice and maize value chains have benefited on this project and they have increased their yield by as much as 39 percent to 45 percent in some cases. Because we cannot go alone, that is why we partnered with several stakeholders to make it possible. Our  input providers includes OCP, Bayer, Pioneer,while we also partner with  farmer training provider s such as  International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), Palm Valley, GFFL. We work with farmer aggregators such as  Thrive, AFEX, Syngenta, Foundation, Nehemiah, Agrolog, Novus Agro. Financial Partners – LAPO, ABU MFB,  Offtake Partners – PANDA, THRIVE, AFEX, GUINNESS, OXFAM.”

Also, our investments in the development of retail and farmer training structures across remote farming communities in the country termed “Farm and Fortune Hubs” has created a one-stop shop access for farmers to interact with diverse quality input providers and every other relevant value provider in the agriculture industry. This has created a platform for seed providers, agrochemical providers, fertiliser providers and every other service provider to reach farmers at the most remote of farming communities.

Is there any way changing trends in the global market may have put on your company stepping up exports to some rapidly expanding markets?  Where do you have your largest buyers of fertiliser?

Across African countries regardless of language, the developmental approach of OCP towards agriculture is very well embraced and appreciated. We are making significant impact in many countries through collaborative engagement with the local private players and governments.

In terms of growth markets, which countries in Africa do you see as key focus areas for the future?

Obviously, I am in Nigeria, because of its huge and enormous potential ranging from current population, to future projected population, land size, arable land and finally the percentage of youth population. But my colleagues in other regions will say the same that way I will say we are not losing sight of the fact that the entire Africa has to develop especially leveraging Agriculture as we have a drive to reposition Africa into the future and spread opportunities for its people.

What is your message to investors outside looking to invest in the agric sector?

Given all the above potential in Nigeria, Nigeria will be the next big destination for whoever intends to access the African market.

 

 

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