Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Botswana joins race to produce SoP fertilizer

Botswana, through state owned company – Botswana Ash Pty Ltd is set to join a list of countries including China and Australia that produce premium fertilizer made out of Sulphate of Potash (SoP).

Botswana Ash, commonly known as BOTASH is a 50-50 percent joint venture between the Botswana government and Alkali Holdings – a South African company.

The company, which started its operations in 1991 at Sua Town, some 180 kilometers from Botswana’s second city – Francistown, has been an active global supplier of natural sodium products including soda ash and Salt.

BOTASH says the time has come to add more to its list of products with Sulphate of Potash (SoP) and Sodium Bicarbonate currently a top priority.

The company’s Managing Director – Kangangwani Phatshwane says as part of its diversification drive, BOTASH’s feasibility study on setting up a facility to produce Sulphate of Potash which is nearing completion. Sulphate of Potash is a fertilizer that has very high potassium which is ideal for encouraging flower and fruit development for farmers. It also helps to strengthen and ripen plants ensuring that they can be protected against pests, diseases and weather damage.

While he cannot give too much detail, Phatshwane emphasises that BOTASH’s plan to diversify products is on good course. He reveals that a facility to produce sodium bicarbonate is also at basic engineering design. Sodium bicarbonate is used amongst others as an anti-acid to treat heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach.

BOTASH is currently the largest producer of natural sodium products in the region and relies on the production of Soda Ash and Salt. It produces 300 000 tonnes of Soda Ash and about 650 000 tonnes of salt per annum which includes chemical salt, coarse salt and fine salt.

If successful, the commissioning of the SoP plant in Sua would see Botswana joining a list of countries that are producing the much needed premium fertiliser. While China is the current world’s largest SoP fertiliser producer it uses a method which is not environmentally friendly for a large proportion of its production volume. As the East Asian country moves towards its stated target of being carbon neutral by 2060, its ability to produce and export SoP fertiliser in current volumes is expected to be diminished. Another key player in the field of SoP fertiliser production is Australia.

THE COVID 19 HIT

The Covid 19 pandemic which reached the local shores in March 2020 has laid out a drastic impact on all industries and sectors in the market including the ones that BOTASH trade in.

Phatshwane shares that the outbreak presented a health risk to BOTASH employees as their facility receives about 100 customers travelling from other countries every day.

The company says its supply chain of spare parts from West Europe, the transportation of products into South Africa as well as the inbound travel of specialized labour from South Africa were disrupted for long periods of time. Phatshwane says sustaining the business with markedly reduced levels of revenue was their major challenge. He however notes that company did not make any losses as they had to re-adjust their priorities for the year. A recovery plan which was put in place also saved the day.

“The plan comprised of the following; protecting the safety and health of employees which entailed the development of elaborate protocols on the prevention and control of infection, keeping assets both in Botswana and South Africa in operation, cash conservation which entailed cost takeout and reprioritization of cash intensive activities,” explains Phatshwane.

BOTASH says it was also forced to preserve revenue by protecting remaining lines of revenue including supporting customers who faced cash flow problems. The move was meant to help position the business to be ready for a rebound in demand of their products.

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