"We are investing significantly in our project cargo capacities, like specialized trucks. Uganda and Tanzania in the East, but also Angola and the rest of West Africa are key growth markets."
How has Polytra Fracht responded to the higher demand for minerals in the Copperbelt?
The market has been tremendously buoyant over the last year, marked by the significant increase in production at the Kamoa-Kakula copper mine in the DRC, which entered its second phase of production late last year. This had an immense impact on cargo demand. Adding to this development, the global demand for commodities, especially those related to the energy transition, such as copper and cobalt, has also given a boost to the market. At Polytra Fracht, we strategized across four pillars. First, we wanted to ensure greater control of the value chain, so we created our own imports, starting with sulfur. Then, we expanded the scope of our sustainability goals, defining three focus areas: environmental, ethical, and human resources.
How is the trading business implemented in Africa advantageous for Polytra Fracht?
We started off with trading sulfur not because we wanted to become a trading player but because we identified an opportunity to balance our imports – for example, if we sign a contract for 20,000 tons of export, we can also trade the equivalent (20,000 tons) of sulfur, which gives us better control of the value chain. This is something we are looking to implement across all of our different trading lanes and not just in the DRC. Like sulfur, we need commodities where the landing costs (when it arrives at a destination) are vastly driven by logistic costs; for some commodities, logistics represent 70% of the cost at the destination. At the same time, although we love to transport mining equipment and it is actually one of our specialities, we are not interested in trading these very expensive items, which incur very high risks; for example, the spare parts worth US$1 million have a logistic cost of US$50,000 – a huge risk on trading. Applying these considerations, there are not many commodities that fit the bill, sulfur, sand, gypsum, coal, and reagents among the most common.
Could you elaborate on the evolution of Polytra Fracht’s sustainability strategy?
Sustainability is too often restricted to CO2 emissions, but we have taken a much more open approach, subscribing to the 17 UN SDGs which touch upon all the areas of sustainability, from green logistics to energy-savvy buildings, to a well-defined code of conduct for our suppliers, empowering locals to take up managerial positions, and obtaining ISO accreditation for our offices by standardizing HSE. This all-encompassing notion of sustainability will continue to shape our future and how we differentiate ourselves.
Could you help our audience understand the significance of the Lobito corridor?
The Lobito Corridor has the potential to become the fastest, most reliable and efficient corridor among all existing five. The importance of this development cannot be underestimated. A consortium of two major companies (Trafigura and Mota-Engil), together with technical advisor Vecturis SA, has been awarded the mandate to operate the railway, independently from politics. Shipping lines do not regularly call on the Lobito port, because there is not enough business there. Personally, I am quite positive that more shipping lines will go to Lobito now that freight rates have come down. Shipping is back to being a volume game and Lobito can offer that opportunity for extra volumes.
What is your growth strategy moving forward?
Polytra Fracht is currently present in 150 locations in more than 60 countries globally, our growth being strongly driven out of Africa, where we are proud to cover 24 countries. We can grow fast because we are 1 family with 1 owner and very fast decision lines. Moving forward, we are investing significantly in our project cargo capacities, like specialized trucks. Uganda and Tanzania in the East, but also Angola and the rest of West Africa are key growth markets. We are also moving further inland in Africa, in landlocked Central Africa, where our value-added is higher. We also have hopes that Zimbabwe should recover and that Ghana will be able to overcome the current debt crisis it is engulfed in.
Do you have a final message?
Sustainability - in the largest sense of the word - will have to be a concentrated, multi-lateral exercise, coming from end consumers, big companies, governments, and supportive industries like us, so that together we can create a fair supply chain – a sustainable supply chain that will really benefit the right people at the right place.