Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Two sides to the Western Sahara story


Farmer co-operative Ravensdown has granted access to Moller Park for a small group wanting to express their opinion about the arrival of legally sourced, essential phosphate rock in Dunedin.

“We saw that a handful of people wanted to use Moller Park, which is property belonging to Ravensdown, to organise a gathering about the arrival of a ship carrying phosphate that will be used by Otago farmers to create food,” said Greg Campbell, Chief Executive.

“While we fundamentally disagree with their opinion, we acknowledge they are entitled to it. We wanted to do what we could to facilitate a safe, peaceful and non-disruptive gathering, so have given conditional access to our property next to our manufacturing site.”

The last similar gathering on 5th September resulted in individuals standing in front of trucks which is a massive risk for all concerned including the organisers of the protest. “Health and safety is of paramount concern to us while recognising the right for individuals to express their views,” said Greg.

“We’ve been in touch with the activists to let them know they should make themselves aware of the land and water related risks of any protest as well as their safety and legal obligations,” added Greg. “We’ve also briefed Police who will have full discretion to intervene if they see it as necessary.”

“As a buying co-operative, we routinely look for additional sources of rock. But the fact that Morocco holds 70% of global reserves means, we cannot boycott them without incurring significant supply risk. Because shipments of some kind and frequency will continue and the claims and counter claims will no doubt persist, I’d encourage the media to show both sides of the story rather than only list the opinions of one. After all, saying something often enough and loudly enough does not make it true.”

Two sides to the story: 11 points of disagreement

  1. The area they say is ‘occupied’ is actually listed by the UN as ‘sovereignty undecided’.

  2. The flags being waved are of a country actually not recognised by NZ, Australia, UK, the European Union, USA, China and the majority of countries in the world.

  3. The trade they say is ‘illegal’ actually complies with the UN framework for trading with areas like these – the industry does its due diligence on the supplying company OCP.

  4. The two New Zealand companies they say are the only ones importing rock actually only import 22% of Western Sahara’s rock exports (roughly equally split) with the rest being imported by Brazil, China, India and Japan.

  5. The rock they say doesn’t help Saharawi is actually welcomed by the Saharawi whose livelihoods depend on the mine (interviews can be arranged with the Saharawi head of the PhosBoucraa Foundation).

  6. The phosphate they say can be easily sourced from elsewhere actually comes with other challenges such as cadmium, dust, other environmental issues as well as quality and supply risks.

  7. The superphosphate they say NZ can do without is actually essential to food creation – without nutrients like phosphate, agricultural production would be about half of today’s.

  8. The country they want to boycott is actually a valued trading partner to New Zealand with exports to Morocco worth over $300 million between 2011 -15.

  9. The last two protests they said would be safe actually resulted in a kayaker standing on a ship’s rudder and two people standing in front of a truck.

  10. The ship they said had been ‘boarded’ by union officials was actually already docked and Ravensdown worked with the union for a smooth handover of a letter to the Master on land.

  11. In Lyttelton on 9th December, the ferry of children that they said was part of a ‘flotilla’ was actually waiting for the protesters to get out of its way so it could get on with its school excursion.


Ravensdown supports the efforts by the UN to seek a political solution of the dispute. In the meantime it is doing what it can to explore additional sources of phosphate rock and continues to encourage OCP to do what it can for the local people. The fertiliser industry has put together this Q&A for any individuals who want to learn more about the topic.