Growing Pain: New Zealands dangerous addition to
For many decades, much of the phosphate from Banaba and Nauru
was shipped to New Zealand and Australia, well below the market
rate, and spread on farms by planes piloted by war veterans. New
Zealand enjoyed decades of cheap phosphate, which became lucrative
meat and wool. Few things are as responsible for the countrys
economic successes as the exploitation of its Pacific
Although it made New Zealand wealthy, its imperialism in the
Pacific, driven by a thirst for cheap phosphate, is an ugly chapter
in the countrys history.
Banaba today is largely uninhabitable, with most of its former
residents displace to Fiji. The island is littered with old
machinery left by miners, and most of the islands land mass has
been hollowed out. When Nauru became independent, it became briefly
and notoriously rich on its remaining phosphate before the economy
After exhausting its sources of phosphate rock, New Zealand had
to look elsewhere.
Because phosphate rock is a precious resource, and one that is
widely used, those who have it are keen to use it for themselves.
New Zealands usual trading partners, like the US and China, use
much of their own phosphate internally.
The remaining options for New Zealand werent great. Nearly all
of the worlds useable phosphate is in North Africa, in countries
prone to instability.
It decided upon the mine in Western Sahara, run by Morocco. The
relationship has since entered its third decade
Exploring the options
The answer to the fundamental question is there any viable
alternative to buying phosphate rock from Western Sahara is yes.
While many other countries have stopped buying Western Saharan
phosphate, in part due to pressure on corporations to exercise
social responsibility, New Zealand is in a bind.
New Zealand is rare among agricultural nations for its high rate
of pastoral farming. Between 80 and 90 per cent of New Zealands
agricultural land is dedicated to animals, which has been largely
consistent for a century. Other major farming nations, like Canada,
have more diverse land uses, such as large tracts of
It means New Zealand needs to grow a lot of grass, which is
eaten by animals, requiring more grass (as well as other crops used
for animal feed). Pasture-based farming is lucrative for New
Zealand. It resulted in $23b in export revenue last year, meaning
its the countrys most valuable export by far. But is heavily
reliant on fertiliser, particularly pho...