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The Curious Case of Substandard Fertilizers in Kenya

Moroccan fertilizer company OCP is facing an unprecedented challenge in Kenya: the bombshell announcement of the arrest warrant against several people, some of whom are employees of OCP.

As one of the main producers of phosphate fertilizer in the world, OCP has designed a growth strategy based on product individualization: creating specific fertilizers for each country, according to its production strategy and its soil. Because fertilizer production is a pure sub-product of chemistry, the producer controls the exact composition of its products, as the contents of the fertilizer compose its value. Addressing the growing market in Kenya and its sturdy agricultural sector, OCP recently sent a cargo ship with a first batch of fertilizer. Kenya is one of the most promising markets for actors in the fertilizer sector.

In the wake of Kenya’s recent contaminated sugar scandal, Kenyan authorities have tightened controls on imported goods, and these standards naturally applied to fertilizer which, if adulterated, could impact all of the downstream products. The Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBS) demanded a double-control procedure, with the fertilizer being analyzed in the Moroccan port of departure and once again upon arrival in Kenya.

The first complications arose upon arrival in Kenya, where the cargo was blocked by KEBS, asserting that the certificate of analysis and conformity issued by Bureau Veritas was incomplete. Tests were carried out by KEBS for further analysis, which results for heavy metals were compliant with Kenyan standards…but finally raised an issue with concentration of Nitrogen and Sulphur. OCP Kenya hence submitted samples to three different independent inspection companies. The new round of analysis returned a verdict of full compliance once again.

“OCP Kenya complied fully with Kenyan procedures and regulations in place in connection with the cargo targeted by this action,” the company stated. In its statement, OCP Kenya reported “The full compliance of this cargo with such procedures and regulations has been indisputably confirmed by independent expert analyses performed by several internationally renowned inspection agencies (SGS, Bureau Veritas and Cropnuts).”

After 5 weeks of back-and-forth investigations, the cargo was finally cleared, but missed the mark on the seasonal market of agriculture. In April, OCP issued a complaint to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives regarding the unusual actions which had been led by KEBS and the impact on commercial and agricultural operations.

On June 22, Kenyan prosecution bureau (Directorate of Criminal Investigations, DCI) issued an international arrest warrant seeking the apprehension of several officials, within the KEBS and OCP. Gideon Keter, from The Star, reported that “Kenya Bureau of Standards MD Charles Ongwae and nine other senior officials have been arrested and taken for questioning at the DCI over the importation of substandard fertilizer and circulation fake KEBS stamps. The nine were picked by detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. They included Quality Assurance director Erick Chesire, Inspection manager Kilindini port Peter Ndung’u, Port health officer Pole Mwangeni and Regional manager Coast region Martin Nyakiamo.”

The arrest warrant materializes the stated DCI suspicion of an organized fraud to bypass standards, and mentions the charges of abuse of office, breach of trust, selling substandard goods and failing to stop “a felony and attempted murder.” Whether the prosecution considers “attempted murder” the possible health implications of adulterated fertilizer, or if is hinting towards an individual action, is still unclear. Unclear is the point that today nobody clearly understands as to what exactly is included in the procedure or its intent. Last Monday, the only discussion in court was about how poisonous Brazilian sugar found its way to Kenya!

The OCP now implicitly suspects it is the target of commercial interests lying in the background, and has disclosed its intention of getting to the bottom of the matter. “While we intend to actively and fully cooperate with the Kenyan authorities in connection with this matter, we reserve our rights to take legal action against the parties behind these baseless and opportunistic accusations,” the company warns.

The battle has only just broken out, and much is still to be discovered behind the fog of war.

In the end, two questions still linger: what the hell would bring a world leading company to incriminate itself in such an underhanded trick to sell only a few more tons of fertilizers and who stands the most to gain from this.

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