Spraying pesticides over vegetables.
Scientists warn there must be a balance between increasing access to fertilisers and preventing overuse.
Photo: Shutterstock/Franco Lucato

30.08.2019

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Farmers in poor countries struggle to afford fertilisers, leading to low yields. Better policies and subsidy programmes could bring down prices and facilitate access. At the same time researchers warn that governments must limit the environmental impact of fertiliser overuse.

Subsidies for manufacturing companies could help improve access to fertiliser in developing countries without increasing environmental stress, a team of international researchers has proposed.

In an article reviewing scientific evidence, the team presented a strategy to manage global fertiliser use while minimising nitrogen pollution — a common side effect. They note that it will be essential to increase access to fertilisers in developing countries in order to provide more food for a growing population.

The researchers highlight intergovernmental cooperation and incentives for companies to provide cheap, high-quality fertilisers as essential measures to tackle poor soils and food shortages.

Benjamin Houlton, lead author of the article and director of the University of California’s John Muir Institute of the Environment, in Davis/USA, said: “In many developing economies, lack of access to commercial fertilisers has resulted in less-than-optimal yields, and highly depleted soils which lack nutrient capital. Restoring soil nutrients with sustainable fertiliser practices is critical to promoting food security and the manifold benefits that this has for society.”

How can we solve the nitrogen challenge?

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