Phosphate. Fertiliser. Farming. Western Sahara. Morocco. And New Zealand. What is it that brings these things together?
Last week we played an interview with Saharawi resistance spokesperson Tecber Ahmed Saleh. Tecber was in New Zealand the past two weeks touring the country to try and educate people on her country’s situation. Tecber was born in one of the longest-standing refugee camps in the Western Sahara, formed after Tecber's country was occupied by Morocco in the 1970s and the Saharawi people were forced into the desert. Currently, the issue of governance is going through the United Nations - but this has taken years and is not yet resolved. Since 1991, there has been a UN-administered ceasefire that stopped the fighting between the Algerian-backed Polisario Front and the Moroccan government over who should govern the area known as Western Sahara. There is a referendum pending here that the Sahrawis people are waiting on. In fact, the NZ Council of Trade Unions called on the United Nations on Tuesday this week to organise, without further delays, a self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara. Furthermore, it called on New Zealand companies to “halt imports of phosphates from the occupied areas of Western Sahara until the legal status of the Territory is determined and the Saharawi people are allowed to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with relevant UN resolutions and Peace Plan of 1991.”
While in New Zealand, Tecber spoke with Lillian Hanly about the desperate situation in the refugee camps in the mean time and the link to the New Zealand companies who import phosphate partly extracted from the Western Sahara, through Morocco. If you want to hear this full interview check it out in the bCasts. But back to phosphate.
Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown are two companies in New Zealand that provide fertiliser to the country’s farmers. Part of the ingredients required to make the fertiliser Ballance-Agri Nutrients and Ravensdown provide is phosphate. Tecber indicated that these two companies are two of the last companies, and therefore New Zealand is the last country external to Morocco that continue to trade with Morocco despite the governing dispute. After having spoken to Tecber Lillian contacted both Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients to find out more.
Ravendsown responded with a written statement and more information, Lillian is following up with them on whether they can do an interview and that information will be covered next week. Their position is ultimately that they are in compliance with the UN framework around dealing with non-self governing territories, they say they are acting legally.
Ballance Agri-Nutrients also responded and Lillian conducted an interview with them. Warwick Catto is the Science Strategy Manager at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, a farmer owned cooperative that alongside Ravensdown provide fertiliser products. Part of Warwick’s role as Science Strategy Manager means he is involved in discussions around the Zero Carbon Bill and freshwater policies in order to ensure the company itself is complying with these new legislations, as well as looking to the future and innovative ways of reducing their carbon footprint for example. Warwick told Lillian that phosphate is one of 14 essential elements that living things use, calcium phosphate for example helps to make bones and teeth. Fertiliser products are necessary in any kind of farming to replace the nutrients and minerals (or the phosphate and sulphur) that are essentially eaten or consumed by animals and plants. Particularly in New Zealand Warwick said, these nutrients are lacking in the soil, and thus the importation of these nutrients and the replacement of the nutrients in soil is necessary. Here, a product called SuperPhosphate is used because the plants need phosphate and sulfur. Lillian had quite a lengthy conversation with Warwick about the situation in Western Sahara, but also New Zealand’s pastoral farming system, which is fairly distinctive in regards to the rest of the world, they also spoke about different methods of farming as well as finite resources and the obligation of finding alternatives - especially given phosphate is one of those finite resources. If you are interested in this you can find the full chat online here. For the show today though, Lillian focused on Ballance Agri-Nutrients' relationship to the Western Sahara.
NOTE: The same day as this was broadcasted, Radio NZ published a piece on the issue as well. A government official for Western Sahara stated they are close to initiating court action against New Zealand. Kamal Fadel is the Australia and New Zealand representative for Polisario, the United Nations-recognised independence movement for Western Sahara. Fadel says the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara was internationally disagreed with and New Zealand's purchase of phosphate from them, was at odds with this. "At the moment New Zealand companies are part of the problem, not the solution, because their involvement provides money to the Moroccans to buy arms and tools to oppress our people. It gives them moral support that they have a right to be in Western Sahara which they don't have ... It's a de facto recognition of Morocco's involvement."
Lillian will speak to Kamal Fadel for next week's show.
This is Part II in a series, you can listen to the others here:
Photo credit: The Atlantic