Tapping the potash deposit to boost productivity


Partnership signatories briefing journalists


Potassium is the third major plant and crop nutrient after nitrogen and phosphorous. It has been used since antiquity as a soil fertilizer (about 90 per cent of current use). Today, potash is produced worldwide at amounts exceeding 50 million tonnes per year, mostly for use in fertilizers. Various types of fertilizer-potash thus constitute the single largest global industrial use of the element potassium. Potassium is an important nutrient used by plants to build strong, healthy stalks and resist crop disease. Potassium occurs naturally in soil but frequently needs to be replenished in the soil, as many agricultural crops use it in large amounts. For this reason, potassium is considered a macro-nutrient and is the third number on fertilizer analysis. Using a crop fertilizer that replaces the potassium in the soil also prevents soil deprivation and keeps crops growing well.

Fertilizers contain three basic elements called NPK : nitrogen (N) for the plant development, phosphorus (P) for resistance and potassium (K) for yield, quality and stress resistance (disease and drought). Potash reduces transpiration of the plant and its water consumption decreases, so the plant is more resistant to drought. Anyone can notice that the properties of the potash plant (larger fruit, and drought resistance) correspond to current problems and future of agriculture (yield, water shortages, disease). Potash was principally obtained by leaching the ashes of land and sea plants. According to Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia, beginning in the 14th century potash was mined in Ethiopia. One of the world’s largest deposits, 140 to 150 million tonnes, is located in the Tigray’s Dallol area.

Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world with considerable amounts of potash deposit, says Nejib Abba Biya, Vice- President of Allana Potash, a Canadian publicly traded corporation with a focus on the international acquisition and development of potash assets, which is producing potash in Afar State of Ethiopia. He noted that the country has a very high reserve amount next to Canada and Russia. However, the level of use of the mineral for fertilizer in the agricultural sector, as compared to other countries endowed with the resource, is very negligible. The last two regimes have tried to tap the mineral for agricultural purposes, but due to various obstacles their efforts did not bear fruit.

Nejib says there are many reasons behind the inability to use the resource at the time. Lack of sustainable peace and security in areas where the mineral exists, absence of adequate financial capacity and shortage of well trained human resource in the sector are among the main factors, he explained. “In addition to money, you need to have experts with adequate knowledge and skill to properly tap the resource, and use it at wider level,” he reflected.

Previously, an overseas organization has tried to engage in the extraction of potash both in Tigay and Afar states. However, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea compelled the organization to leave the area. Nejib underlines the importance of peace for investors who allocate up to one billion dollars in the production of potash. What is more, conducive policy environment is key. Relatively improved situations from this respect are encouraging investors from different corners of the world to engage in the sector, Nejib said, adding during the last few consecutive years the image of Ethiopia has witnessed considerable improvements and this is attracting more foreign investors to the country.

The partnership agreement between Israel Chemical Limited (ICL), which has about 12 billion dollar share from world potash fertilizer market, with Allana Potash, to produce and supply potash fertilizer to both domestic and overseas farmers is an indication of the continued attraction of investors to Ethiopia. The partnership accord signed recently between the two companies could strengthen the already started effort to extract potash by Allana Potash since 2008. The joint project has an allocated budget of about 642 million dollars. ICL has been producing potash in southern Israel, since the country gained its independence in 1948. according to Nejib, in addition to the strong and promising technical aspects of the project, the Ethiopian government is strongly supporting mining initiatives in the country. Allana has had advanced discussions with the Minister of Transportation, Minister of Mines and the Minister of Defense regarding infrastructure improvements in the Danakil region which would greatly enhance the economics of the projects, he noted.

As ICL Africa chief executive officer, Yoram Cohen said, ISC has a globally reputed experience and acceptance in the production of agricultural inputs, foods and engineering. The company, which has more than 12 thousand employees, is earning a huge profit every year, he indicated. The arrival of the company to work in partnership with Allana Potash would bring various benefits for Ethiopia, he said. Cohen also commended the support from the Ethiopian government in the process of issuing the investment license and other preparatory backing. He says Ethiopia is an important destination for the company to produce and supply potash fertilizer to the rest of Africa. “ We want to contribute our share in the effort to ensure food security in Africa. Our company would help a lot in food processing and fertilizer supply,” he added.

ICL has been undertaking various preparations during the last couple of years to start production potash fertilizer in the Afar State. The partnership between the two companies is expected to enable the country tap its potash reserve and utilize in nutrient deficient areas and further boost agricultural productivity. This would help a lot to the effort to ensure food security in the country, said professor Tekalign Mamo, State Minister with the Ministry of Agriculture. “the signing of the partnership agreement would enable the country to make its aim to introduce new fertilizers to its farmers for the first time after more than four decades of using only UREA and DAP,” he remarked. Soil fertility research is to be undertaken in more than 400 woredas (districts) to identify potash deficient areas and distribute the new fertilizer to the farmers, he said.

Chief of staff with the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), Mirafe Gebriel Marcos, also viewed the accord as an important opportunity to get various fertilizers that could be produced from the potash mineral. “Small scale farmers could get fertilizer that could better help them to increase their productivity and improve fertility of their soil,” he underscored. Mirafe also said as the production is to be undertaken domestically, it would help the country to minimize foreign exchange expense previously used to import fertilizer from abroad. The potash fertilizer producing plant, which would be the first of its kind in east Africa, is expected to fill the gap in the demand for potash in the sub-continent. The partnership project, which will have a duration of 2 up to 2 and one half years, have already invested 25 million Dollars of its 642 million dollars total budget and commence production with 1 million tonnes of potash per year. It also is expected to create job opportunity for about two thousand people.


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