The phosphate industry is a key component of global food security and the phosphorous derived from rich rock phosphate is essential to all forms of life.
In addition to water and sunlight, plants have a vital need for three components that are essential to their development: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). Arable lands naturally contain these three elements in varying proportions. Before the early 20th century, agriculture production did not call for large inputs of these elements; however, between 1900 and 2000, agricultural production increased by 600 percent. As a result of this growth, it became necessary to add various amounts of these three elements to most land in order to improve its productivity. Today, between 40 and 60 percent of global food production requires the use of NPK fertilizer. Phosphorous alone represents a quarter of the 170 million tons of consumed nutrients per year.
If global agricultural production does not increase in this decade compared to the prior decade, we may face a global food output shortfall by 2050, when the world’s population is anticipated to reach 9.2 billion people and arable land per capita is expected to drop from its current .20 hectares per capita level to .12. Therefore, food production must increase by 70 percent, or 1.5 percent per year. This would be impossible without the use of chemical fertilizers. Cereal production, for example, will have to grow at an increased pace to serve expected consumption levels, which are currently between 400 and 1,500 daily grams per person worldwide. Industrial fertilizers, particularly phosphate fertilizers, provide an essential means to meet the planet’s future dietary needs in a straightforward and effective way. They are the only way for populations to increase yields per hectare substantially and therefore limit the amount of land devoted to agriculture at the expense of an already strained forest cover.
From 50 million tons at present, demand for fertilizer will increase to around 70* million tons in 2020, an average growth of 2.6 percent per year. Therefore, 2 million additional tons of fertilizer will need to be produced each year.
*Source: British Sulfur, SRI International, Fertecon.