Wanted: Professionals for new fertiliser plants

For analysts, Nigeria’s fertiliser industry holds huge potential. A boom in fertiliser production is expected to create thousands of jobs. DANIEL ESSIET examines the plethora of professionals in the value chain that will be in high demand.
Globally, fertiliser is, by far, the largest sector of the input market. The International Fertiliser Association (IFA) estimates that between 2015 and 2019, the industry has invested between $86 and $91 billion in new mines and fertiliser producing facilities.

The industry, IFA says, has made a major contribution to employment, and is responsible for almost a million jobs in production around the world.
While fertiliser producers have achieved many milestones in the last decade, more investors are establishing new ammonia and urea plants.

Significantly, the Nigerian fertiliser industry has seen encouraging growth in the number of plants and blending units. This is a result of policy makers and businesses beginning to see the broad socio-economic opportunities that fertiliser can bring.

Speaking with The Nation, the Executive Secretary, Fertiliser Producers Society of Nigeria (FEPSAN), Mr. Gideon Negedu, said there were 42 functioning fertiliser blending plants across the country. The plants are Notore Chemical Industries, Rivers State, Indorama Eleme Petro Chemicals Company in Port Harcourt and West Africa Fertiliser Company Okpella, Edo State.

Others are Superphosphate Fertiliser and Chemicals Limited, Kaduna; Crystalier Nigeria Limited, Niger; Flour Mills of Nigeria, Apapa, Lagos; Golden Fertiliser Company Flour Mills, Kaduna.

Also, there are Fertiliser and Chemicals Limited, Kaduna; Fertiliser Blending Plant Niger; Funtua Fertiliser and Chemicals Company, Katsina; MFB Fertiliser and Chemicals Company Limited, Kaduna; Kano Agricultural Supply Company Limited; Savannah Fertiliser Services Limited, Niger, Kaduna OCP Africa blender, Ogun OCP Africa blender and Abuja OCP Africa blender.

Of these, Notre Chemicals Industries Limited and Indorama Eleme fertiliser & Chemicals Limited (River State are the only plants producing urea in Nigeria and sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). Dangote Group and Brass Fertiliser are working on boosting urea production.

Other plants are producing nitrogen-based fertiliser.

Experts say an abundant supply of natural gas and minerals has enabled fertiliser producers to play a major role in the supply of nitrogen-based and phosphate-based fertiliser such as urea, ammonia and di-ammonium phosphate (DAP).

While some industries may be cutting cost and slimming-and-trimming to stay competitive after the COVID-19, fertiliser is providing some of the most lucrative opportunities in the market.

Negedu sees the industry jobs growing rapidly in aspect, from manufacturing to installation to maintenance.

For him, workers with the right skills in the right location have a chance to not only find work but grow along with an emerging industry.

He is not alone. Vice President, West African Fertiliser Association (WAFA), Dr. Innocent Okuku, agrees with him.

The growth of fertiliser industry, according to him, ticks the right boxes for the government, meeting its goals of diversifying the economy and supporting job creation.

As the industry grows, Okuku contends that it will snowball to lowering the cost of fertiliser and creating more jobs.

Companies looking for new workers

The Indorama Eleme Fertiliser project is one of the largest single-train urea plant in the country. It has created over 50,000 jobs across the agriculture value-chain, while its affordable fertiliser is boosting farm yields and putting smiles on farmers’ faces.

Co-funded by the African Development Bank, the Indorama Eleme Fertiliser project is a success story of public-private partnership (PPP). The project has created tens of thousands of jobs and, above all, has brought hope to youths.

One of the key benefits of large fertiliser production establishment, Okuku stressed, is the creation of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly during the construction and operation of the complexes. This in turn supports the development of the private sector, particularly, small and medium enterprises, through outsourcing services.

The $2.5 billion Dangote Fertiliser Plant is set to start operation this year. The plant is expected to manufacture three million metric tonnes of urea per annum, with core focus on the reduction of fertiliser imports, and $400 million yearly foreign exchange from export to African countries.

The management of Dangote Refinery and Petrochemicals has disclosed that the 650,000 barrels per day project will create jobs for at least 250,000 Nigerians when completed and fully operational next year.

Group Executive Director, Strategy and Capital Projects, Dangote Industries Limited, Mr. Devakumar Edwin, said the refinery has the potential to turn around Nigeria’s economy with the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

He said the huge youth unemployment rate and the need to make the country self-reliant in fuel consumption were the major reasons that motivated the President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, to venture into manufacturing.

He said he was very optimistic that the refinery would be a “game-changer” for Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

According to him, Dangote Industries has succeeded in substantially reducing the high rate of unemployment in the country, with the conglomerate already recruiting youths in for various agricultural schemes and other subsidiaries.

He said Dangote Industries is the highest employer of labour outside the Federal Government.

Okuku noted that the proposed Akwa Ibom Ammonia plant will require hundreds of construction workers and permanent ones after the plant has been built.

The ammonia plant, to be established by OCP Fertilizer, in partnership with Akwa Ibom State Government, is capable of providing thousands of jobs and fits with Federal Government’s strategy for economic recovery, which looks more prospective in locations where the raw material is less costly to produce. The project will involve several upgrade contracts, including providing the management support, coordination and supply of hot-work resources to undertake off-site prefabrication and on-site welding maintenance work.

It is one of the multi-million dollar downstream projects that will help expand the value chain of the fertiliser industry.

Analysts see it providing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) opportunities in supporting construction, maintenance, transport, logistics, catering and accommodation for the project.

The project is expected to provide opportunities for local contractors and service providers

Where the jobs are

New plants provide ample opportunities to recruit new workers.

This is going to result in thousands of jobs on completion.

Fertiliser production involves manufacturing and service activities, including mining, processing, liquids treatment and production services.

Okuku told The Nation that the activities taking place within the industry would create a lot of jobs.

Already, the states and private sector organisations involved have concurred on creating a world-class, well-developed fertiliser production infrastructure, including industrial training institutes, residential compounds and commercial activities.

This will result in thousands of direct and indirect jobs, and establishment of an industrial base that facilitates innovation, development, and competition.

According to Okuku: “There will be different types of service providers around the ammonia plant; transporters, suppliers, caterers and so forth. My expectation is that Morocco will be accessing ammonia from Nigeria for their nitrogen, phosphate and phosphorus (NPK) fertiliser production. The existence of ammonia in Nigeria provides raw material to explore phosphate. We have phosphate deposits in Nigeria that have not been used to produce fertiliser today. We have abundant ammonia which is a key requirement in converting the phosphate into fertiliser. If we explore those phosphate deposits, much industry will spring up. There will be a lot of employment creation as well as qualities of highly balanced fertiliser products locally. It will reduce importation of the phosphate component of our fertiliser and fertiliser products prices will go down.”

When in full stream, OCP blending plants, Dangote Fertiliser and Akwa Ibom Ammonia complexes will try to identify, attract, hire, and on-board mid-career professionals.

At the top level, there will be openings for professionals in business development, strategy planning, Leadership development, plant operation & maintenance.

Most players in the industry read chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, project management, accounting/auditing and economics. There will be openings, ranging from lesser requirements of qualification to those needing higher degrees. Fertiliser firms also look for people with a background in chemistry, agronomy, geology and mining, mechanical and industrial engineering, environmental engineering and analytics.

Like other industries, fertiliser manufacturing has typically followed a traditional talent-acquisition model, where firms recruit at a few select schools and target students with degrees in chemical engineering.

One thing common among fertiliser firms is that they maintain a strong talent culture built and maintained through implementation of sound human resources(HR) practices.

At the moment, there are few Nigerians with degrees in fertiliser management .These include Mr. Nnaemeka Odionye and Toyin Aremu, graduates of Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), Morocco.

Others are graduates of Indian and foreign institutions, which offer specialised courses in fertiliser production.

In an earlier interview with The Nation, the Coordinator/Director, School of Agriculture (ESAFE), UM6P, Prof Abdelaziz Yasri, explained that the UM6P’s Master programme in Fertiliser Science and Technology prepares graduates for broad knowledge of fertiliser and soil fertility to become experts. The graduates of the programme have several career options in working in process engineering related to fertiliser manufacturing.

To make it globally accepted, the Master’s Programme in Fertiliser Science and Technology was developed in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), alongside contributions from the International Plant Nutrition Institute, the University of Georgia and Morocco’s OCP. OCP will be partnering the Federal Government to enhance the skills of young graduates in vital areas, including the chemical industries, operating skills in advanced industrial environments, and optimal handling of industrial tools and processes. The trainees will go through an on-the-job training (OJT) programme that will continue for periods ranging from six months to one year.

He said there was the need for African countries to figure out how to grow more food faster, with fewer resources, by developing new technologies to scale up the planet’s food production mechanisms on a sustainable basis.

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