1998 IFA UNEP World Food Supplies
Government, farmers and industry – partners in food security
Mineral fertilizers, and hence the fertilizer industry, constitute, and will continue to constitute, one of the most important keys to world food supplies – though by no means the only one. The more nutrients are taken out of the soil by crops, the more have to be put back: there is no substitute for plant nutrients. And the more people there are on this planet, the more food they will eat. For reasons relating to the various nutrient cycles – but especially the nitrogen cycle – there is simply not enough organic material to sustain soil nutrient levels, and hence soil fertility – not even if all the world’s animal and human excreta could somehow be collected and recycled to agricultural land. The fertilizer industry and its associated trades comprise a complex network of suppliers and buyers of numerous different raw materials, intermediates and finished products, and this creates a high degree of international interdependence. Over the last few decades, primary production has tended to concentrate near the major sources of raw materials and feedstocks; and, as smaller sources of these materials become exhausted or uneconomic, this trend will continue, producing still greater geopolitical interdependence and division of responsibilities for the prosperous survival of planet Earth. The responsibility of governments for ensuring food security will grow proportionately with the growth of populations; and governments in developing countries bear a special responsibility for promoting agricultural inputs including fertilizers. They cannot do this effectively without the confidence of farmers and the fertilizer industry – all three parties are in a partnership, without which their objectives will fail. Much remains to be done, but IFA has felt for some time that the achievements, problems and prospects of the mineral fertilizer industry deserve more widespread recognition. No-one claims that fertilizers are a panacea, or that they can do their work without other inputs – notably water. But their contribution to past and future food supplies is so important that there ought to be a better public appreciation of this. It is for this reason that this book has been produced. It is intended as a basic introduction to fertilizers and the fertilizer industry. It is not for the experts: it is for those who want to acquire an elementary knowledge of the nature of fertilizers, their effects, the problems of promoting their use, the economics of the industry, its changing structure, its raw materials base, its future prospects. There is a little history, a small dose of agronomy and some indications on production technology. For those who wish to delve more deeply into particular aspects, IFA and UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, with other partners, are preparing a series of more technical publications on the subject of mineral fertilizers and the environment.