Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) plans to develop a world-class fertiliser manufacturing industry in the country, thus positioning it as the premier local marine phosphate sand producer.
NMP has thus been granted a renewable 20-year mining license (ML170) by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) to develop its Sandpiper Marine Phosphate project, which could potentially be in existence for over 300 years if mined responsibly. The company therefore plans to mine between 2.3 to 3.0 square kilometres (sqKM) per year, as well as deploy known and proven dredging technology similar to those applied in the marine diamond industry and in deepening ports.
The phosphate-rich sand is found on the sea floor, ranging in a one to three-meter thickness. The phosphate sand processing is a simple mechanical particle size segregation and washing in which the dredger recovers the sand and pumps it into the hopper (chambers) of the dredger (ship). Once full, the dredger sails to land to discharge the phosphate-rich sand into a manmade buffer pond (servers as a stockpile for continue plant feed). Once the phosphate sand is washed and dried, it is distributed to the local and international markets through the Port of Walvis Bay.
Phosphate is one of the three key nutrients required by plants. Phosphate fertilisers facilitate root development, efficient use of water, early plant maturity and higher yields. NMP’s phosphate sand (Namphos) was tried at the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) in Florida, USA to establish the suitability of the Namibian phosphate for direct use without further processing. The results indicated the NMP phosphate sand can be used directly as a fertiliser. It even out-performs some of the traditional suppliers of the direct application phosphate.
The results also indicated that the NMP phosphate sand performs similar to the Triple Super Phosphate (TSP), which is a refined phosphate fertiliser, hence makes the Namphos competitive in terms of costs involved.
NMP plans to conduct further trials to establish empirical usage data for applying NMP phosphate sand in Namibia.
Chief executive officer of project operations, Barnabas Uugwanga, notes Namibia’s agriculture sector will benefit greatly from the marine phosphate mine.
Producing phosphate in the country will help support ongoing crop production through the provision of phosphorous for fertiliser, which will secure agricultural productivity and food security in Namibia and the region at large.
Presently, the Sandpiper Resource alone puts Namibia at seventh position in the world as a two billion-ton phosphate resource holder.
Although South Africa also produces a considerable amount of phosphate, the top three phosphate producers worldwide, at the moment, are China, Morocco and the USA.
The project’s mission is to become one of the world class suppliers of direct application phosphate and to be in phase two of phosphate fertiliser products.
The project has received attention from various pressure groups and the fishing community due to fears, suggesting the mining of phosphate at sea could affect the marine ecosystem and hence the fishing prospects.
NMP has, in this regard, followed a due processes in obtaining a mining license, and has also assessed the potential impact to the marine ecosystem. Subsequently the company has submitted a marine Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in March 2012 for the required marine environmental clearance to execute the mining license.
The findings demonstrated that mining of marine sand for its phosphate would not have detrimental effect on the ecosystem and hence phosphate-rich sand can co-exist with fishing and other oceanic activities, such as transportation, oil and gas exploration and potentially, the production of marine diamond mining.
After submitting the EIA, the company was advised by the environmental commissioner, Theo Nghitila, to further consult the fishing community that still had concerns. The company thus held consultative meetings with both the Fishing Confederation and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in July and September 2012, respectively. This saw NMP agreeing to adjust its verification programme to provide more scientific pieces of evidence to the relevant scientists of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
NMP has a lot of respect for the environment and has demonstrated this by producing a quality EIA, in addition NMP will be carrying out a verification programme at sea to further provide insitu data required in assessing the impacts on the marine ecosystem.
The N$ 14m verification programme, allows the concerned parties to join the process of gathering further empirical scientific evidence with regards to assessing marine environmental impact.
“The programme will have qualified and competent scientists overseeing it to provide the necessary additional scientific evidence to finally ensure closure to the ongoing concern of the fisheries industry. The verification programme will cover various aspects, such as sediment properties, water column properties, benthos as well as fish, mammals and seabirds,” Uugwanga points out.
The programme will thus take about six to nine months to complete, after which the findings will be shared amongst the parties concerned so that the project can finally move to the next phase.
The company has, so far, invested over N$120m in exploration and the assessment of the environmental impacts.
Once the project gets the relevant clearance, it is projected to contribute between 400 and 500 jobs during construction, as well as 150 permanent and 200 indirect ones through outsourced services.
The second phase of the project will focus on the production of various phosphate-based fertilisers in which another estimated 150 jobs will be created.
NMP estimates that phase one of this project will generate revenue of up to N$2.4b per annum. PF