Phosphorous: Where Morocco is OPEC

A wastewater Treatment Plant in Eagan, Minn.

In a new series called “Elementary Business,” the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt takes a new look at the economy -- using a microscope. He’s tracking the chemical elements that play an important role in the global economy, starting with phosphorous.

Phosphorous is in everything -- DNA, plant life, bacteria.  The best known use of phosphorous is probably as a fertilizer. It’s an essential component of modern farming and helps increase the amount of crops a farmer can get from any one field.

And while phosphorous is everywhere, almost all the mineable phosphorous is in…Morocco.

“This is bigger than OPEC,” says Rowlatt “Morocco has a stranglehold on the world’s phosphorous market.”

Phosphorous is such an important part of agriculture today that an increase in the price of phosphorous would lead to higher food prices.

Rowlatt says there are attempts to “recover” phosphorous -- including those at a sewage plant in Slough, in the UK. The folks at that plant believe they could one day extract about 20 percent of the UK’s phosphorous needs from sewage.

About the author

Justin Rowlatt is the host of Business Daily from the BBC World Service

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