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Nigeria's formerly state-owned fertilizer company is producing its first stock in a decade after a $400 million refurbishment by new owners who aim to boost farming and food security across Africa.
LAGOS, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Nigeria's formerly state-owned fertilizer company is producing its first stock in a decade after a $400 million refurbishment by new owners who aim to boost farming and food security across Africa.
Notore -- a consortium of Nigerian and foreign private and institutional investors -- acquired the National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria (NAFCON) in 2005 for $152 million after the plant went into liquidation due to management problems.
NAFCON was established in 1980s as the first and biggest modern nitrogenous fertilizer plant in sub-Saharan African, which has the lowest rate of fertilizer use in the world despite being home to many agriculture-based economies.
"The African Green Revolution has indeed begun ... Nigeria has once again joined the elite league of industrialised nations that produce fertilizer," Notore managing director Jite Okoloko said in a statement.
The restart of the 1.6 million tonnes-per-year plant, located at Onne in the southern delta state of Rivers, is expected to provide a major relief for Africa's top oil exporter, which spends billions of naira every year on fertilizer subsidies.
Nigeria is the world's fourth-biggest cocoa grower and also produces cotton, cashew nuts, palm kernels and rubber, although its agricultural industries have seen a massive decline since the oil boom of the 1970s began generating easier revenues.
Economists say Nigeria and other African oil producers, at the mercy of volatile world prices, need to diversify their economies again.
Notore said it planned to expand its business around Africa to help improve food security on the world's poorest continent.
The plant has the capacity to produce 1,000 tonnes of ammonia, 1,500 tonnes of urea -- the world's most common form of nitrogen fertilizer -- and 2,000 tonnes of a bulk blend NPK per day, using natural gas usually flared during oil production.
It was refurbished by the Houston-based Proplant Inc. with the help of local engineers, and started producing ammonia this week, while the urea line is still being tested, Notore said.
The plant was closed in 1999 due to technical and management problems, and a series of attempts by the government to revamp it had failed. (Editing by Nick Tattersall and Anthony Barker)