5 Reasons Why Fertilizers are Key for Transforming Agriculture

“Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.”

― Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

With one third of the world’s land devoted to it, agriculture is crucial both for the millions of farmers who make their living from it and the societies and economies that depend on it.

The current cause of considerable environmental problems, it’s also critical for the future of our planet. In order to meet the growing challenges of climate change, human health, population growth and resource pressure we need to make our agricultural systems more sustainable. Here are some of the reasons why fertilizers are vital for achieving this.

1. Plant nutrients ensure we can grow enough crops for our growing world

Today, half the food we eat is produced thanks to mineral fertilizers, which provide crops with nutrients that are essential for their growth and health, resulting in increased yields and food production.

Fertilizers, managed properly using the right nutrient source, at the right rate, in the rate place and at the right time (known as the 4Rs), are crucial to feeding the growing world population, expected to reach around 10 billion people by 2050, and meeting food security needs. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where fertilizer consumption is the lowest in the world at 2% of the global average, 40% of soils are depleted of nutrients while 243 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

2. Fertilizers can help farmers adapt to climate change and operate in water-scarce environments

Healthy soils and plants can better withstand climate stress than those with nutrient deficiencies. By increasing crops’ resilience, fertilizer best management practice is vital for farmers that need to maximize their yields in good seasons to make up for more severe weather events in bad seasons.

Certain soluble fertilizers can also be combined with irrigation water to provide plants with nutrients and water in the most efficient way possible. This method, called fertigation, can be carried out in arid or semi-arid regions with extremely simplified irrigation systems, preventing water being wasted and helping to reclaim lost farmland.

3. Nutrient management helps mitigate climate change by increasing soil carbon sequestration

Capable of storing up to 50-300 tons of carbon per hectare, soils are the largest terrestrial pool of carbon and represent 89% of agriculture's mitigation potential.

4R nutrient management, alongside best soil management practices such, helps to build up soil organic matter (SOM) since it increases biomass production which allows the increased non-harvested carbon rich biomass (e.g. roots and stems) to return to the ground. This not only improves soil health and productivity but results in more CO2 being sequestered to soils.

4. Fertilizers are key for sustainably intensifying agriculture on existing land

When applied according to best management practices, fertilizers can provide plants with consistent and easily available nutrients while minimizing the risk of losses and the negative effects of their over or underuse.

Applying 4R nutrient stewardship (the right nutrient source, at the right rate, in the rate place and at the right time) has allowed farmers in various regions of the world to sustainably increase their yields, incomes and livelihoods, making the most of their existing land while protecting valuable wild ecosystems.

5. Fertilizers help prevent and reverse soil degradation and desertification

Desertification refers to the extreme degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, primarily caused by human activities and climatic variations, this condition is particularly notable in Africa, where declining soil fertility is linked to declining agricultural productivity.

By restoring and maintaining soil health and fertility, fertilizers used according to best management practices play a key role in combatting desertification, restoring degraded soils around the world and improving the health of farming systems.