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The importance of fertilizers for the sustainable growth


As the world population continues to grow there is no doubt that the so called "food security" will be the major issue in the years ahead of us. It is suggested that in year 2050 the world food production will need to be doubled in order to satisfy the demand. The shift toward the meat consumption will mean greater demand for feed grains. Increased food production will also mean that the production needs to intensify because the land available is finite. The new development in the biotechnology and genetics will help to intensify the production, as will fertilizers. Several long-term studies in the USA and England suggest that the average percentage of yield attributed to fertilizers range from 40 to 60 percent. The study(John. L. Jifon and Gene E. Lester - Effect of Foliar Potassium Fertilization and Source on Cantaloupe Yield and quality). concludes that the commonly stated 30 to 50 percent yield thanks to the fertilizers input is a reasonable, if not too much conservative estimate. Without intensification and the fertilizers, input meeting the worlds rising food needs would not be possible.

Without fertilization, the world would only produce the half of the food it is producing now and therefore more forested land would have to be cleared in order to meet the demand. Another crucial aspect of the fertilization is increasing the food quality. The American study in Rio Grande Valley documented that foliar K application during fruit development and maturation increases ascorbic acid and beta-carotene. "Adequate K nutrition also increases fruit size, improves fruit color, increase shelf life, and also shipping quality." In this sense, fertilizers not only help by increasing the yield but also by helping to improve the marketable value of the products. It is clear that intensification and increased fertilization will be needed in order to meet the population demand; however, this must be done in the ways, which minimize the environmental impact. This is when we encounter the first dilemma how to satisfy the needs of many and on other hand embrace the so-called sustainable development? It is unexpected but the use of fertilizers can have some benefit for the environment. Because current agricultural practices use as much as "24kg/ha/year" of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium the organic sources naturally present are not sufficient to replace these nutrients. In this sense, the lack of inorganic fertilization has a greater environmental impact than using the commercial fertilization. This combined with the proper practice of water utilization and soil erosion management can help reducing the need for converting forest and other precious lands into agricultural use. However even most optimistic scenarios conclude that this intensification of agriculture will not be sufficient to fulfill the needs of future generations and that the extensification of agriculture will continue to grow. Fertilizer use has high returns on average; however, this comes with the high cash costs and the risky returns. The fertilizer use is risky because of two main reasons: First, the output prices can vary widely on a year-to-year basis and so it is hard to calculate if the incomes from sold goods will, be enough to cover the fertilizers cost. Secondly, the yields vary wide according to the climate. In addition, the high input and transportation cost make the use of fertilizers uneconomical for some farmers and some types of crops. "Inorganic fertilizers rarely cause any environmental damage." Nevertheless, especially in some areas after the negative experience with pesticides; people tend to consider fertilizers being the same as harmful chemicals. It is important to note now that the reduction or elimination in use of fertilizer would lead to starvation and malnutrition of millions but also to the degradation of environment because of the increased deforestation, soil erosion and desertification as has already occurred in the past.


Nevertheless, the use of fertilization needs to be kept in perspective. There have been some reports on underground water contamination with nitrate (Zambia, Zimbabwe). However, there is a little or no evidence of rising nitrate levels due to the fertilizer use. In addition, the impact on CO2 emission is far less significant than from other sources. In fact, the deforestation can have far greater negative consequences for global warming.