About 72 million years ago in the geological era known as the Cretaceous period, the emergence of Moroccan phosphate began, and in the early part of the last century, while Morocco was subject to French colonialism, the exploitation of the phosphates of the city of Khouribga and its environs from mining villages began to enter the region a new stage in its history, where phosphate and its derivatives and related industries became The center of life for the locals and expatriates working in the mines.

Phosphatic mountains

As we approach the city of Khouribga in the center of the country, the visitor sees huge mountains of phosphate residues that tell a story about a century ago that enabled this small city to contribute to providing important resources of hard currency for the Moroccan economy.

Moroccan academic Najat Ratabi said that the discovery of the phosphate mineral constituted a pivotal station in the history of Khouribga, noting that the Ouled Abdoun basin is one of the largest phosphate basins in Morocco, and is the first region from which the exploitation process began.

With the laying of the foundations of the phosphate industry, the French colonialism built the "European Quarter" in the city, equipped with basic facilities, and a number of workers' villages were built near the explored mines, such as Hattan, Boujniba and Bolnour.

The exploitation of phosphate began - according to the spokeswoman - more than 100 years ago, and after decades of underground mining of phosphate, the transition to surface exploitation was carried out based on huge mechanisms, and the last underground mine was closed in May 2005.

Ratabi added that the early excavations resulted in the discovery of 10 phosphate basins.

What is phosphate?

Phosphate is a sedimentary rock formed millions of years ago as a result of the accumulation of organic matter and marine life on the ocean floor. It is the natural source of phosphorous, which is one of the three most widely used nutrients in fertilizers. It can also be converted into phosphorous acid used in food, cosmetics and electronics.

After its extraction, the phosphate is transported through one of the longest belts of its kind around the world to plants for screening, drying and roasting before exporting. It is exported through a pipeline connecting the city of Khouribga to the Atlantic port of Jorf Lasfar at a distance of 187 km. This pipe transports phosphate in the form of pulp made up of 60% of metal Phosphate and 40% water.

Phosphates go through different stages before being exported (Al-Jazeera)

Hard currency

In contrast to Morocco’s damage to the war in Ukraine - especially in light of the high prices of fuel and wheat on the international market, which costs the state budget billions of dollars - the country has benefited from the high prices of this substance and its derivatives in the international market despite the decline in production by 11%.

Minister in charge of the budget Fawzi Lakjaa said that the rise in phosphate prices in international markets will provide the country with revenues that will help in providing new credits to support basic materials provided by the state to face the rise in prices.

During the first four months of this year, exports of phosphate and its derivatives doubled to $3.6 billion, compared to $1.8 billion during the same period last year.

Commenting on the issue, economic analyst Bader Al-Zaher Al-Azraq said that phosphate exports hit a record high last year, reaching $8 billion last year, and in light of current indicators, it is expected that these exports will record by the end of this year a record amount of income that may exceed $12 billion.

Al-Azraq added that phosphate represents an important percentage of state revenues, which contributes to achieving a balance in the balance of payments, and can be a negotiating paper to defend the country's strategic interests.

Phosphate train

In June 1921, the first shipment of phosphate was transported on board the train from the Boujniba mine on the outskirts of Khouribga to the port of Casablanca, and the daily freight was up to 1,200 tons.

In 1923, the first railway to transport phosphates was operated over a length of 150 km in one direction, before a second line was added starting in 1950.

Today, the "Sharif Phosphate Complex" - a state-owned company - exports the most important part of the phosphate through daily trains, one of the longest and heaviest in the world.

youth unemployment

Despite its rich inner wealth, the economic situation of the city of Khouribga is not different from other cities that do not have economic resources. While the phosphate industry provides job opportunities for a group of young people in the city and its suburbs, another group complains of unemployment and marginalization.

Khouribga is famous for the migration of its children to European countries such as Italy and Spain, and dozens of them drowned on boats during the irregular migration journey towards Europe in search of a better future.

Morocco owns about 70% of the world's phosphate reserves, and its annual production is estimated at 37 million tons. Khouribga produces half of Morocco's production of this raw material, which is one of the most important sources of foreign exchange in the country.

Phosphate train is one of the longest trains in the world (Al Jazeera)

What about production?

With this increasing rate of export growth, phosphate production, although it declined by 11% in the first quarter of 2022, is likely to trend upward in order to increase profits and gains in the global market.

This is a real opportunity to seize, especially with the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, one of the largest exporters of fertilizers.

To do this, the OCP - based on its strong performance with an increase in its turnover of 77% in the first quarter of 2022 - intends to increase its production volume by about 10% in 2022, and the goal is to meet the demand in high-growth markets, as the group continues to strengthen its position As a world leader.