An Open Letter To Morocco

Dear Morocco,

Over 85 percent of the world’s phosphorus supply is located in Morocco, in reserves in the elemental form of a mineral rock, and yet, no efforts are being made to prevent the waste of this phosphorus. Of the 90 percent phosphorus used in agriculture, 30 to 40 percent is lost in processing and mining, and 50 percent is lost in the food chain. This causes the demand for phosphorus to rise 3 percent every year, which will eventually lead to destroying of the world’s bodies of water and the rise of world hunger. The very element that gives us food through its imperative role in agriculture could very well become the bane of our food supply.

Morocco, as the world’s leading phosphorus supply, is the country that carries the most weight in the decisions made concerning the use of phosphorus. Are we reaching peak phosphorus? Are we using the element at a faster rate than we are able to extract it? Of course, phosphorus is a renewable resource, so there’s absolutely no way we will ever run out, right? However true it may be that phosphorus is renewable, the reality is that we are extracting phosphorus at an unsustainable rate. Not only that, but we are also wasting most of the phosphorus extracted, losing it in the middle of the process. This wasted phosphorus seeps into the bodies of water of surrounding areas, through agricultural or manure run off, creating a process called eutrophication. This affects not only the surrounding coastal areas of Morocco, but also areas where phosphorus is not as prevalent; such as we can observe with the eutrophication of the Caspian Sea. Eutrophication is a serious form of water pollution where algae bloom, consuming oxygen and as a result, creating dead zones in many bodies of water around the world. Today, there are over four hundred coastal dead zones, such as the Caspian Sea, within the Gulf of Mexico, as well as many along the coast of Morocco itself, due to phosphorus waste and runoff, and these zones expand at about 10 percent per year.

The reality is that, while we need phosphorus for the production of fertilizer and therefore for the production of our food supply, Morocco does not make enough efforts to conserve and prevent the ineffective use of phosphorus, or the kind of use that leads to waste and eutrophication. There are many identified ways to prevent the wasteful use of phosphorus, however many companies and governments consider these not economically feasible or appealing. However, what is definitely not economically feasible is the wasteful use of phosphorus. First of all, damage due to eutrophication costs the United States alone 2.2 billion dollars per year. Secondly, the increasing demand for dairy and meat products by an ever-growing middle class is increasing the demand for phosphorus at 3 percent per year. This rise in demand will eventually grow to completely unsustainable rates, allowing us to not have any more phosphorus to extract before it can naturally renew itself. This will inevitably lead to the development of world hunger, which will cost the world, and Morocco specifically, more money than the sustainable and less wasteful use of phosphorus ever would.

Many other companies and countries have begun advocating for and developing the sustainable use of phosphorus, such as the International Rice Research Institute, which has developed new phosphorus efficient crops, by “[discovering] a gene that makes it possible for rice plants to grow bigger roots that absorb more phosphorus. The overexpression of this gene can increase the yield of rice plants when they are grown in phosphorus-poor soil,” and the University of Guelph in Canada, which has developed research on an “Enviropig,” which are genetically modified pigs that are made to digest phosphorus more easily and excrete less of it, contributing to less waste and less use of phosphorus because it requires less phosphorus to feed the pigs. Even with all these advances, Morocco, the world’s leading source of phosphorus, has made no efforts at research or even attempting at a sustainable, non-wasteful use of their plethora of phosphorus.

Morocco must open its eyes as the world’s number one source of phosphorus, and be a role model to the countries with the leading amounts of phosphorus in the efficient, sustainable use of the element. Phosphorus is necessary to all human beings, and we must have it for our food production, however we must find a more efficient way to utilize it, or it will be the bane of our existence. Morocco must light the way and begin the sustainable use of this incredibly important element.