While UCL Resources and Minemakers International (ASX: UCL and ASX & TSX: MAC respectively) have overcome an important environmental hurdle after the submitting an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) indicating that their Sandpiper marine phosphate project poses minimal risk to the local fishing industry, the consortium has more reason for optimism. The Sandpiper project will be able to supply natural soil nutrient to meet the inevitable agricultural expansion that will take place in Namibia as a result of a new water source. Indeed, a newly discovered and very prolific fresh water source in Namibia could transform what is one of the driest countries in the world (and the driest in Sub-Saharan Africa) could generate an unprecedented agricultural revolution. The aquifer was discovered thanks to a collaborative effort by the Namibian government along with German and EU funded and supported technical efforts.
The underground water source – the Ohangwena II aquifer – estimated to be able to supply northern Namibia for the next 400 years. Now, residents of northern Namibia (where 40% of the country’s population lives) rely on a rather limited source of water based in neighboring Angola. The newly discovered source is source is a virtual underground fresh water lake covering an area of about 70 km by 40 km. Until now, agricultural development has been restricted to areas close to the water sources; however, the Ohangwena water source could change all that, helping to boost production through better irrigation. The water source is said to be 10,000 years old, which makes it pure and free of modern pollutants and it could really help to obviate the problems to farming caused by Namibia’s typical droughts and limited rainfall. In addition, many of the existing water sources used to sustain agriculture and human consumption are salty and ineffective.
The Sandpiper project is expected to produce ‘Namphos’ type phosphate which is ideally suitable for direct soil application; this also makes it much cheaper for Namibian farmers to increase their productivity. Moreover, the Sandpiper project, from its very inception, was intended to address both domestic Namibian agricultural needs as well as those in other countries of southern Africa; the phosphate would also be available for export to meet wider international demand. The discovery of a huge fresh water source will surely increase demand for nutrients in response to more land being devoted to agricultural use. Such is the demand for phosphate, especially in the long term, that undersea phosphate makes economic and business sense. The Sandpiper project will involve dredging at depths ranging between 180 and 200 meters. NMP management has projected the cost of production to be about USD$57/ton, which is relatively low considering that the cost of shipping phosphate from Morocco alone is about USD$70/ton.