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    A rock and a hard place: peak phosphorus and the threat to our food security

    Tomlinson, Isobel (2010) A rock and a hard place: peak phosphorus and the threat to our food security. Technical Report. Soil Association.

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    Yet, there is one critical issue in securing our future food security that is missing from the global policy agenda: we are facing the end of cheap and readily-available phosphate fertiliser on which intensive agriculture is totally dependent. The supply of phosphorus from mined phosphate rock could ‘peak’ as soon as 2033, after which this non-renewable resource will become increasingly scarce and expensive. We are completely unprepared to deal with the shortages in phosphorus inputs, the drop in production and the hike in food prices that will follow. Without fertilization from phosphorus it has been estimated that wheat yields could fall from nine tonnes a hectare in 2000 to four tonnes a hectare in 2100. The current price of phosphate rock is approximately twice that of 2006. When demand for phosphate fertiliser outstripped supply in 2007/08, the price of rock phosphate rose 800%. This may well be a taste of things to come. In Europe we are dependent on imports of rock phosphate, having no deposits of our own, but the geographical concentration of reserves adds further uncertainty to the future security of our sources. In 2009, 158 million metric tonnes of phosphate rock were mined worldwide. 67% of this resource was mined in just three countries - China (35%), the USA (17%) and Morocco and Western Sahara (15%). China has now restricted, and the USA has stopped, exports of phosphate. There are serious environmental impacts of phosphate fertiliser production and use including the production of toxic and radioactive waste, cadmium pollution to soils, greenhouse gas emissions, and the eutrophication of rivers. In the UK, and internationally, there has been no serious discussion of, or action on, what peak phosphorus means for food security. A radical rethink of how we farm, what we eat and how we deal with human excreta, so that adequate phosphorus levels can be maintained for crop production without reliance on mined phosphate, is crucial for ensuring our future food supplies. In this report we set out the actions we need to take to close the loop on the phosphorus cycle to address future shortages and prevent further environmental damage from phosphate pollution.


    Item Type: Monograph (Technical Report)
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2013 10:36
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:07


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