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The Story of Phosphorus : Sustainability implications of global phosphorus scarcity for food security
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The story of phosphorus began with the search for the philosopher’s stone, and centuries later the critical role of phosphorus in soil fertility and crop growth was highlighted. Eventually, phosphorus was implicated in the global environmental challenge of eutrophication. Now, we are on the brink of yet another emerging chapter in the story: global phosphorus scarcity linked to food security. Through a transdisciplinary and systemic inquiry, this thesis has analyzed, reconceptualized and synthesized the physical and institutional dimensions of global phosphorus scarcity in the context of food security, leading to a new framing, ‘phosphorus security’ to guide future work towards a more sustainable and food secure pathway.

In a world which will be home to nine billion people by the middle of this century, producing enough food and other vital resources is likely to be a substantial challenge for humanity. Phosphorus, together with nitrogen and potassium, is an essential plant nutrient. It is applied to agricultural soils in fertilizers to maintain high crop yields. Phosphorus has no substitute in food production. Therefore, securing the long-term availability and accessibility of phosphorus is crucial to global food security. However the major source of phosphorus today, phosphate rock, is a non-renewable resource and high quality reserves are becoming increasingly scarce. This thesis estimates peak phosphorus to occur before 2035, after which demand will exceed supply. Phosphorus scarcity is defined by more than just physical scarcity of phosphate rock and this thesis develops five important dimensions. For example, there is a scarcity of management of phosphorus throughout the entire food production and consumption system: the global phosphorus flows analysis found that only 20% of phosphorus in phosphate rock mined for food production actually reaches the food consumed by the global population due to substantial inefficiencies and losses from mine to field to fork. There is also an economic scarcity, where for example, while all the world’s farmers need access to sufficient fertilizers, only those with sufficient purchasing power can access fertilizer markets. Institutional scarcity, such as the lack of governance structures at the international level that explicitly aim to ensure long-term availability of and access to global phosphorus resources for food production that has led to ineffective and fragmented governance of phosphorus, including a lack of: overall coordination, monitoring and feedback, clear roles and responsibilities, long-term planning and equitable distribution. Finally, geopolitical scarcity arising from 90% of the world’s remaining high-grade phosphate rock reserves being controlled by just five countries (a majority of which are subject to geopolitical tensions) can limit the availability of phosphorus on the market and raises serious ethical questions.

The long-term future scenarios presented in this thesis indicate that meeting future global food demand will likely require a substantial reduction in the global demand for phosphorus through not only improved efficient use of phosphorus in agriculture, but also through changing diets and increasing efficiency in the food chain. The unavoidable demand for phosphorus could then be met through a high recovery and reuse rate of all sources of phosphorus (crop residues, food waste, manure, excreta) and other sources including some phosphate rock. A ‘hard-landing’ situation could involve further fertilizer price spikes, increased waste and pollution (including eutrophication), increased energy consumption associated with the production and trade of phosphorus fertilizers, reduced farmer access to phosphorus, reduced global crop yields and increased food insecurity. A preferred ‘soft landing’ situation will however require substantial changes to physical and institutional infrastructure, including improved governance structures at the global, national and other levels, such as new policies, partnerships and roles to bring together the food, fertilizer, agriculture, sanitation and waste sectors for a coordinated response.

Finally, this thesis proposes a new global goal – phosphorus security – to be integrated in the dominant research discourses and policy debates on global food security and global environmental change. Among other criteria, phosphorus security requires that phosphorus use is decoupled from environmental degradation and that farmers’ access to phosphorus is secured.

Place, publisher, year, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2010. 220 + papers 1-5 p.
Series
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 509
Keyword [en]
global phosphorus scarcity, peak phosphorus, global food security, sustainable resource use, food production and consumption system, transdisciplinary, systems thinking
Keyword [sv]
global fosforbrist, peak fosfor, global matsäkerhet, hållbar resursanvändning, system för produktion och konsumtion av mat, transdisciplinaritet, systemtänkande
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53430 (URN)978-91-7393-440-4 (ISBN)oai:DiVA.org:liu-53430 (OAI)diva2:291760 (DiVA)
Public defence
2010-02-25, Tem21, T House, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from2010-02-03 Created:2010-01-21 Last updated:2014-10-02Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. The story of phosphorus
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The story of phosphorus : Global food security and food for thought
2009 (English)In: Global Environmental Change, ISSN 0959-3780, Vol. 19, no 2, 292-305Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Food production requires application of fertilizers containing phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium on agricultural fields in order to sustain crop yields. However modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus derived from phosphate rock, which is a non-renewable resource and current global reserves may be depleted in 50–100 years. While phosphorus demand is projected to increase, the expected global peak in phosphorus production is predicted to occur around 2030. The exact timing of peak phosphorus production might be disputed, however it is widely acknowledged within the fertilizer industry that the quality of remaining phosphate rock is decreasing and production costs are increasing.

Yet future access to phosphorus receives little or no international attention. This paper puts forward the case for including long-term phosphorus scarcity on the priority agenda for global food security. Opportunities for recovering phosphorus and reducing demand are also addressed together with institutional challenges.

Publisher, range
Elsevier, 2009
National Category
Social Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-18446 (URN)10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.10.009 (DOI)
Available from2009-05-27 Created:2009-05-27 Last updated:2010-02-03Bibliographically approved
2. Phosphorus, food and ‘messy’ problems
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Phosphorus, food and ‘messy’ problems : A systemic inquiring into the management of a critical global resource
2008 (English)In: Proceedings of the 14th ANZSYS Australia New Zealand Systems Society Conference, 1-2 December 2008, Edith Cowan UniversityMount Lawley CampusPerth, Western Australia / [ed] Trudi Cooper, Terence Love, William Hutchinson and David Cook, 2008Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper presents a process of systemic inquiry into the roles, relationships and perceptions in the management of phosphorus resources in the context of global food security. Phosphorus, like water, energy and nitrogen, is critical for food production. All modern food production and consumption systems are dependent on continual inputs of phosphate fertilizers derived from phosphate rock. Yet phosphate rock is a finite resource under the control of only a handful of countries – mainly China, Morocco and the US. Production of current global phosphate reserves could peak in 30 years, within decades of peak oil. Given this situation it is surprising that phosphorus is not considered a priority in the dominant discourses on global food security or global environmental change. Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology offers a framework to guide an inquiry or ‘learning process’ into the nature of the problem situation and system failure, incorporating results of an analysis of stakeholder interviews, a substance flows analysis and an institutional analysis. The soft systems inquiry reveals that not only is there no stakeholder consensus on the nature of the problem, there are no international institutional arrangements, much less an international organisation, responsible for monitoring and facilitating the long-term sustainability of phosphorus resources for food production. Further, without such an actor and associated institutional arrangements, there is no ‘feedback loop’ that can correct the system. Given the critical nature of phosphorus to all modern economies, this is a concerning finding and warrants further analysis, deliberation and enabling of change.

Keyword
Phosphorus, global food security, soft systems methodology, stakeholder analysis, institutional analysis
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53760 (URN)978-0-7298-0668-8 (ISBN)
Available from2010-02-03 Created:2010-02-03 Last updated:2010-02-03
3. Phosphorus
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Phosphorus : a nutrient with no home - multiple stakeholder perspectives on a critical global resource for food security
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other (popular science, discussion, etc.))
Abstract [en]

As an essential nutrient for crop growth and hence food production, phosphorus is a resource of global significance. Yet the main source of phosphorus – phosphate rock – is a non-renewable resource and high-grade global reserves of phosphate rock are likely to be depleted in the next 50-100 years while demand continues to increase. Unlike oil, which can be substituted with renewable energy sources, there is no substitute for phosphorus in food production. Increasing environmental, geopolitical, economic and social challenges means there is a pressing need to reassess how phosphorus is sourced and used in the global food system. For example, while all farmers need access to phosphorus, just five countries currently control around 90% of the worlds remaining phosphate rock reserves. Further, the quality of reserves is decreasing, while the environmental pollution is increasing and cheap fertilizers are likely to be a thing of the past. Given this situation, it is concerning that no existing international organisation is taking an active role in governing phosphorus resources to ensure its long-term sustainability for future food security. This paper first synthesizes findings from a series of international in-depth stakeholder interviews regarding sustainability perspectives on global phosphorus resources for food security. The findings are integrated within a broader institutional analysis of the situation. The analyses revealed that there is little consensus on the nature of the phosphorus situation and indeed possible solutions. Phosphorus is conceptualised in many different ways depending on the context, such as a fertilizer commodity or an environmental pollutant. There is substantial institutional fragmentation and ambiguity regarding roles and responsibilities. In order to ensure future phosphorus accessibility and availability for global food production, phosphorus scarcity needs to be added to the food security discourses alongside water and energy scarcity.

Keyword
phosphorus, global food security, food availability, stakeholder interviews, institutional fragmentation
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53761 (URN)
Available from2010-02-03 Created:2010-02-03 Last updated:2010-02-03
4. Preferred future phosphorus scenarios
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Preferred future phosphorus scenarios : A framework for meeting long-term phosphorus needs for global food demand
2009 (English)In: International Conference on Nutrient Recovery from Wastewater Streams, Vancouver, 2009 / [ed] Don Mavinic, Ken Ashley and Fred Koch, London: IWA Publishing, 2009, 23-44Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Closing the loop for nutrients in wastewaters (municipal sewage, animal wastes, food industry, commercial and other liquid waste streams) is a necessary, sustainable development objective, to reduce resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Chemistry, engineering and process integration understanding are all developing quickly, as new processes are now coming online. A new "paradigm" is emerging, globally. Commercial marketing of recovered nutrients as "green fertilizers" or recycling of nutrients through biomass production to new outlets, such as bioenergy, is becoming more widespread.This exciting conference brings together various waste stream industries, regulators, researchers, process engineers and commercial managers, to develop a broad-based, intersectional understanding and joint projects for phosphorus and nitrogen recovery from wastewater streams, as well as reuse. Over 90 papers from over 30 different countries presented in this volume.

Publisher, range
London: IWA Publishing, 2009 Edition: 1
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53763 (URN)978-1-8433-9232-3 (ISBN)
Available from2010-02-03 Created:2010-02-03 Last updated:2013-05-13Bibliographically approved
5. The Australian story of phosphorus
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Australian story of phosphorus : sustainability implications of global phosphate scarcity for a net food-producing nation
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for the growth of all living organisms including plants and animals, hence critical for food production. Mining of phosphate-rich deposits of guano and phosphate rock have played an important part in feeding the world in the past 100 years, and supporting the Australian economy. However, increasing environmental, economic, geopolitical and social concerns about the short and long-term use of phosphate rock in agriculture means there is a need to initiate a policy discussion, research and action to address the pertinent challenges both at the international and national levels. A peak in global production of phosphate rock is expected to occur by 2030 yet there are no alternatives currently on the market that could replace phosphate rock on any significant scale. This paper addresses the sustainability implications of global phosphate scarcity for Australia. Australia has naturally phosphorus-deficient soils while simultaneously has invested in phosphorus-demanding export industries like beef and dairy. This paper considers the historical and present situation in addition to possible future pathways. A distinction is made between ‘hard landing’ responses to phosphorus scarcity, including further fertilizer price spikes, increasing environmental costs and reduced fertiliser availability and hence crop growth, and preferred ‘soft landing’ responses such as diversifying sources of phosphorus fertilizers, including recovering from organic waste streams, and demand management options that are likely to ensure a smoother transition. As a phosphate-dependent nation heavily dependent on agricultural exports, the Australian situation is of global interest.

Keyword
global phosphorus scarcity, food production, Australia, phosphate rock, phosphorus recovery
National Category
Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-53767 (URN)
Available from2010-02-03 Created:2010-02-03 Last updated:2010-02-03

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