Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa

Date:
January 28, 2014
Source:
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Summary:
A growing imbalance between phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer use in Africa could lead to crop yield reductions of nearly 30 percent by 2050, according to a new study.

Underuse of phosphorus-based fertilizers in Africa currently contributes to a growing yield gap -- the difference between how much crops could produce in ideal circumstances compared to actual yields. This phosphorus-specific yield gap currently lies at around 10% for subsistence farmers, but will grow to 27% by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a study published today in the journal Global Change Biology.

Related Articles


"This research shows that the imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus applications has the potential to further limit food production for a growing population in Africa" says Marijn van der Velde, a researcher now at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, who led the study while working at IIASA.

While nitrogen-based fertilizers can be produced by a process that extracts the element from the air, phosphorus must be mined from rock -- and reserves are limited. That makes phosphorus fertilizers expensive, especially in the longer term.

"Farmers with limited money are more likely to buy and have access to cheaper nitrogen-based fertilizers," says van der Velde. "While this might work in the short term, in the longer term it has a negative effect on crop growth as soil nutrients become more imbalanced."

As farmers use fertilizers for their crops, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus build up in the soil, providing a reserve of nutrients that plants need to grow. But fertilizer use remains very low in Africa, and to increase crop production, it is widely recognized that farmers must increase their fertilizer use. And while nitrogen-based fertilizer usage has begun to increase in Africa in the last 10 years, the application of phosphorus to cropland has not kept pace, leading to a growing imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus levels in soil. The new study shows that increases in nitrogen and phosphorus inputs must happen in a way that provides crops with the balanced nutrient input they need.

The study used data from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) crop trials as well as an established EPIC large-scale crop model to estimate how the imbalance affects current and future crop yields.

"Previous research has looked at these effects on a field and local scale, but this is the first study to do so at the continental scale," says IIASA researcher Christian Folberth, who also worked on the study.

In order to make optimal use of current nitrogen inputs, the researchers estimated that phosphorus applications would need to increase 2.3-fold. To close yield gaps nitrogen applications would have to increase 5-fold. Phosphorus applications would have to increase nearly 12-fold from 2.2 to 25.9 kg per hectare.

But because of the cost of phosphorus, that remains a challenge. "While much of the remaining phosphorus reserves are found in Morocco, on the African continent, we need to find better ways for African farmers to access this precious resource" says van der Velde.

The global phosphorus cycle is, besides nitrogen, also increasingly growing out of balance with carbon, the subject of another recent paper by the same group of researchers and a new European Research Council grant for continued research by IIASA and an international team of scientists.

"The change in the stoichiometry of nitrogen and carbon from rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations relative to phosphorus has no equivalent in Earth's history and the impacts will go beyond the agricultural sector." says van der Velde.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marijn van der Velde, Christian Folberth, Juraj Balkoviç, Philippe Ciais, Steffen Fritz, Ivan A. Janssens, Michael Obersteiner, Linda See, Rastislav Skalský, Wei Xiong, Josep Peńuelas. African crop yield reductions due to increasingly unbalanced Nitrogen and Phosphorus consumption. Global Change Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12481

Cite This Page:

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. "Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140128094718.htm>.
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. (2014, January 28). Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140128094718.htm
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. "Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140128094718.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) — In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) — Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) — A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) — The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins