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  MAY 2019 

New Global Tool Helps Address Environmental Concerns of Nutrient Pollution

As highlighted by the adoption of the Sustainable Nitrogen Management Resolution at this year’s United Nations Environment Assembly, the world is becoming increasingly interested in the role of human activities on global nutrient cycles.

While nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, are crucial for sustainable development, such as feeding the world’s growing population, they can also have a negative impact when too much is lost to the environment.

World Nutrient Losses

“Currently, around two-thirds of the 140 million metric tons of reactive nitrogen that are produced by man-made activities annually go unused into the water and air, contributing to greenhouse gasses and damaging ecosystems, while nearly half of all phosphorus is also unused, polluting water,” explained Christopher Cox, Programme Officer at the UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA).

Part of these nutrient losses come from the excessive or improper use of fertilizer by some farmers. Meanwhile, in certain regions, including Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America, other farmers don’t use enough nutrients to meet their needs, with the resultant nutrient mining degrading the soil and limiting crop yields.

In order to feed the growing global population and help lift over 500 million smallholder farmers in developing countries out of poverty, fertilizer use is expected to significantly increase in the coming decades. At the same time nutrient pollution must be reduced.

Responding to these human nutrient use challenges, the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM), a global partnership of governments, industry, scientists, NGOs, UN agencies and international organizations including IFA, was set up to assist the global community through sound policy and technical intervention, reduce the amount of excess nutrients lost to the environment, in line with global development goals.

New Management Tools

The GPNM, with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has recently launched an unprecedented new online knowledge management tool to help guide stakeholders in the fight against nutrient losses and environmental degradation.

“Designed as a central reference point for understanding the roles of a wide range of nutrient pollution sources and how to tackle them, the Global Nutrient Management Toolbox is the first global platform dedicated to showcasing effective nutrient management practices, policies and technologies that can reduce environmental degradation,” observed Sara Walker, Senior Manager of Water Quality and Agriculture at the World Resources Institute (WRI) which created the platform with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation.

The toolbox includes: 1) a searchable database featuring over 200 current nutrient best management practices (BMPs) and policies from around the world; 2) case studies and reports about how best practices are being implemented to reach nutrient management objectives; 3) a toolbox for calculating river basins’ current and potential future nutrient loads based on changes in management practices.

A wide array of fertilizer-focussed resources are featured, such as fertigation, integrated plant nutrient management, precision agriculture, slow and controlled release fertilizers, urease inhibitors, buffer strips, cover crops, pay-for-performance conservation and 4R nutrient management.

With a global audience in mind, users can also tailor the content to their local requirements by filtering the BMP and policy databases by region, sector or climatic zone; or replacing the default global dataset in the Toolbox Calculator with more accurate local information.

By adapting the calculator, for example, researchers from the University of the Philippines were able to develop a Manila Bay Nutrient Load Model which estimates the amount of nutrient load going into Manila Bay, determines the efficiency of sewage connections, treatment, and phosphorus reduction in detergents, and identifies possible policies and strategies to reduce the load.

Navigating Nutrient Use

Sustainable nutrient management is central to the Sustainable Development Goals, with both an excess or lack of nutrients liable to create potentially important social, economic and environmental problems. “As we prepare to better understand, monitor and balance our nutrient use, innovative resources such as this toolbox will become increasingly important,” predicted Christopher Cox.

Find out more about the Toolbox or use it here.


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