Those who bank on conventional agriculture are getting worried: we might be heading for peak phosphorus by 2034 according to experts at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
Like oil, phosphorus is a non-renewable resource. Formed in ancient seabeds it is mined mainly in China, Morocco and the Western Sahara. According to the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative (GPRI), China has increased its export tariffs by 135% to protect its own local food production, resulting in greatly reduced exports and a growing reliance by the rest of the world on African imports. Another follow-on effect has been a 700% price increase for phosphorus in the first 14 months since early 2007.
There is a problem with what the Australian consumer magazine Choice describes as ominous signs of concern for world food production and food security. The reason for peak phosphorus is the world’s reliance on a model of agriculture built on artificial fertiliser use. If we wouldn’t be dependent on agribusiness for our food production, the marriage between industrial style farming and large corporations producing farm inputs like fertilisers, pesticides and seeds, peak phosphorus would not be on the horizon and, more important, would not be a concern at all. Even Choice points to ‘excrement’ as an excellent phosphorus replacement. In other words, all our farmers have to do is to return to what for thousands of years provided food security: organic agricultural methods.
So, who knows, maybe peak phosphorus might deliver the impetus to getting back to common sense. Given the entrenchment though of multi-national agribusiness interests in food production, we’ll probably end up with more Frankenstein food.