A farmer applying fertiliser in his paddy field.

Modern agriculture essential to food security, say K+S

K+S AG seek to contribute to combating hunger throughout the world with the use of modern fertilising methods. The fertiliser company presented some of its PPP projects at a conference in Berlin, Germany.

People are concerned by the topic of global food security. For example, the Germans are convinced that the burgeoning world population can be fed and are donating the largest amount of money for this purpose. These are two results from a representative survey run by the German opinion research institute forsa and commissioned by K+S AG. The firm presented the survey on the occasion of its 125th company anniversary in autumn 2014 in the context of a lecture event held in Berlin under the motto “Future Food”.

There is considerable interest in the issue of global food security among 80 per cent of those interviewed, which certainly also has a lot to do with the possibility to demonstrate the topic in an emotional and illustrative manner. Nearly every third person contacted in the survey preferred donating money to do something about poverty and hunger to spending it on environmental or health issues – despite the close link between these areas. While the true number of people going hungry has dropped by 17 per cent since the 1990s according to an analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 69 per cent of those interviewed still believe that it has risen slightly. Just nine per cent know that it has in fact dropped. To K+S Management Board Chairman Norbert Steiner, this is a clear sign that more information has to be provided on what modern agriculture can achieve.

Higher yields thanks to appropriate use of fertiliser

Juliana Rwelamira, Managing Director of the Sasakawa Africa Association in Ethiopia, demonstrated how the maize yields of smallholders had improved thanks to the employment of modern fertilisers. Expert advice, the establishment of marketing co-operatives and networking between the smallholders have created a framework in which effective fertilising forms a further element in creating income for households. Together with fertiliser manufacturers K+S, a wide range of experiments have been carried out resulting in a significant increase in maize yields from 2.75 to 4.23 tons per hectare.

Around 50,000 smallholders in northern Uganda are involved in the K+S programme “Growth for Uganda”, which focuses on the subsistence economy and growing millet, sorghum, rice, sunflowers and beans. As Norbert Steiner reported, they have succeeded in enhancing their yields with the aid of mineral fertiliser and thus taking advantage of initial marketing opportunities. Here, Steiner explains, mobile soil analysis units see to it that mineral fertiliser is applied carefully. With this public-private partnership programme, the actors are seeking to demonstrate how they can make a long-term contribution to coping with hunger. This includes offering expert advice on the correct use of the mineral fertiliser. Only enough is added to make up what the plants take from the soil. Steiner says that just like in the industrialised countries, organic fertiliser continues to play a role in agricultural practice. 

Post 2015: a wide range of challenges

Currently, the international community is formulating the socioeconomic goals to follow the Millennium Goals. Given the 840 million people still suffering hunger, the topic continues to represent a formidable challenge. However, Steiner warned in Berlin that justified criticism of many an agricultural practice must not lead to placing modern agriculture under a blanket suspicion.

Thomas Silberhorn of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) conceded that technology and fertilisers alone could not cope with a scarcity of resources that was being further aggravated by climate change. Silberhorn is confident that knowledge, access to land, strengthening women’s rights and infrastructure projects addressing transport and energy will help.
And a further factor has to be mentioned. Although two thirds of those interviewed believe that changes in consumer habits in the industrialised countries can help improve the poverty and food situation, just one third of them stated in the survey that they were actually changing their own habits as consumers.

Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin