international fertilizer correspondent
No 8

Feed the soil to feed the people, the IPI jubilee


Feed the soil to feed the people, the IPI jubilee
- Session 1: Policy issues related to food supply and the environment
- Session 2a: Economic and social issues
- Session 2b: Economic constraints
- Session 3a: Plant nutrients for sustainable agriculture
- Session 3b: Imbalance in nutrient supply
- Session 4: Potash in agriculture
- Acquiring and putting knowledge into practice - the role of IPI

- The law of the minimum
- Soil fertility in Czech Republic in decline

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"Feed the soil to feed the people"
The IPI Jubilee Congress

More than 180 participants from some 30 different countries came to Basel, Switzerland, October 8-10, 2002, to celebrate with the International Potash Institute its Golden Jubilee.

Global population growth and urbanization history and forecast

Global population growth and urbanization history and forecast

The Congress, celebrating 50 years of IPI, had the following aims:

  • to set out some of the environmentally benign and economically viable ways within which future food production systems must operate to be socially acceptable:
    Global population is still growing, especially in developing countries. There are still more than 700 million people who are food-insecure. Rural poverty is a major problem. Furthermore, the availability of land and water resources is rapidly declining. There is an urgent need to increase the productivity of remaining natural resources, including energy, while at the same time observing environmental needs.
  • to identify basic concepts of soil and crop management for sustainable farming:
    Sustainable farming means being able to generate income over a long time without sacrificing soil fertility. It has to be seen within the context of equity, poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental considerations. Farmers in developed countries must conform to a regulatory framework that protects both people and the environment. In countries in transition and in developing countries, unfavourable farm and market structures, lack of functioning credit systems, inefficient extension services or, simply, lack of knowledge are major constraints.
  • to look into the management of plant nutrients to ensure that fertilizers are used in the most environmentally acceptable and sustainable way and that crops are supplied with all essential nutrients at the appropriate time and in the required quantity:
    Precision agriculture, biotechnology, integrated plant nutrient management, nutrient placement including fertigation, and synchronizing nutrient supply with demand, are some of the means by which fertilizers can be used more efficiently. They help to make more economical use of natural resources, protect the environment and thereby also improve the public image of farming and the fertilizer industry.
  • to identify and optimize knowledge transfer under different social and economic conditions, and to make available the most advanced research results in the field of balanced fertilization:
    Results from agricultural research remains ineffective unless knowledge is transferred to the end user of fertilizers, the farmers. Others who should be briefed include fertilizer dealers, advisors, and, equally important, decision-makers and politicians. The latter provide the economic and social framework necessary for efficient crop production, income generation and rural development.

Representatives/speakers from all major international agricultural/fertilizer-related associations and research institutions such as FAO, IFA, IFDC, IFPRI, IRRI, OECD, PPI were present. Eighteen oral presentations, two panel discussions and some 100 posters comprehensively covered the theme "Feed the soil to feed the people". Based on the response of the participants, the congress can be rated as a great success.

In his opening speech the Director of IPI reminded the audience that the global population has increased from about 2.5 billion, when IPI was founded in 1952, to currently 6 billion and will grow further to more than 8 billion 25 years from now. Most of the growth is in developing countries where there is also a considerable shift from a rural to an urbanized population. This in itself increases the demand for food because it changes people's eating habits. Looking at the production side, the natural resources of land and water can no longer be expanded without occupying marginal land. The only solution is to seek increased productivity from land that is already being cultivated but this has to be set within the context of decreasing per capita availability of land. In the fifty year lifetime of IPI, this has decreased in developed countries from 0.66 ha to 0.47 ha whereas in developing countries it has decreased from 0.30 ha to 0.16 ha, and will inevitably decrease further. A similar serious situation applies to the availability of water.

Global cereal production and fertiliser use

Global cereal production and fertiliser use

In the past, there was an almost linear increase in global cereal output which coped nicely with demand from an increasing population. However, this correlation appears to have ceased. More recent data show a stagnating or even decreasing global cereal output. Adverse climatic conditions such as droughts in the major cereal producing countries (North America, Australia, parts of Africa and India) and floods in parts of China and Europe are among the reasons. Another is that alternative cash crops are replacing some of the wheat and rice grown in China. Inadequate fertilizer use is undoubtedly another factor that affects cereal output.

Coverage of nutrient removal by crops with mineral fertilizers

Coverage of nutrient removal by crops with mineral fertilizers

There has been a marked change in fertilizer use over the last 25 years. When IPI celebrated its Silver Jubilee, the use of N, P and K fertilizers in developed countries was, overall, higher than the removal of nutrients in harvested crops. Economic constraints and ecological considerations have overturned this pattern and the use of fertilizers no longer replaces the nutrients removed in crops. This refers in particular to the use of potash. Developing countries show the reverse trend. There has been an improving coverage of nutrient removal by the use of mineral fertilizers. Again, the weak point is the use of potash. Although potash consumption has steadily increased over the last 25 years, K removal by crops exceeds by far K replenishment with mineral fertilizers. Other K sources are not enough to fill the gap and hence widespread soil K mining is inevitable.