• Cranfield co-authored report asks farmers to increase the reuse of phosphorus from animal manure and other organic amendments

  • Using alongside conventional fertiliser will not affect crop yield and promotes soil health

  • Phosphorus is a finite resource – with 70 per cent of the supply located in Morocco

The re-use of the finite nutrient phosphorus must play a greater part in farming, according to a new report co-authored by Cranfield University.

Dr Ruben Sakrabani, Associate Professor in Soil Chemistry at Cranfield University, has co-written a chapter in the Our Phosphorus Future report, released yesterday. It focuses on the reuse of phosphorus from organic materials in farming.

Another Cranfield soil scientist – Dr Frank Mnthambala – has also contributed to the research. His work considers the use of meat and dairy in Malawi, and asks how communities in sub-Saharan Africa can use phosphorus more efficiently.

The Our Phosphorus Future report is the most comprehensive global analysis of the challenges and possible solutions to the phosphorus crisis to date. It has been written by a team of 40 international experts from 17 countries led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the University of Edinburgh and is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

It offers a series of solutions offered to the global phosphorus crisis, which threatens food and water security. It details how phosphorus is an essential but often overlooked resource, vital for life on earth, and is extracted from phosphate rock for use in crop fertilisers, livestock feeds and food additives. In the report scientists are warning of the global mismanagement of the nutrient – something brought into sharp focus with fertiliser prices skyrocketing in recent months.

Global food security remains threatened as many farmers struggle to afford sufficient phosphorus fertiliser for their crops.

Meanwhile overuse of fertilisers and the missed opportunities to optimise alternatives sources of phosphorus from sewage sludge and other organic amendments needs to be promptly addressed.

The report calls on governments across the world to adopt a '50, 50, 50' goal: a 50 per cent reduction in global pollution of phosphorus and a 50 per cent increase in recycling of the nutrient by the year 2050

Dr Ruben Sakrabani, from Cranfield University, said: “There needs to be a paradigm shift to better utilise organic amendments as a reliable source of phosphorus. This can be achieved through innovation supported by scientifically rigorous evidence-based dataset, less bureaucratic policy framework and socio-economic analysis.”

The main conclusions in the report say that:

  • integrating livestock and crop production so phosphorus in animal manure is applied to crops, reducing the demand for chemical fertilisers;
  • moving towards more sustainable diets, which would reduce the amount of phosphorus needed to grow animal feed;
  • reducing global food waste, meaning less demand for crops and animal products, and therefore phosphorus (a recent UNEP report estimated global food waste from households, retail establishments and the food service industry totals 931 million tonnes each year);
  • improving wastewater treatment to remove phosphorus from sewage, so it can be reused and does not enter lakes and rivers.

The report’s authors estimate adopting the '50, 50, 50' goal would create a food system that would provide enough phosphorus to sustain over four times the current global population, save farmers nearly US $20 billion in annual phosphorus fertiliser costs and avoid a projected yearly clean-up bill of over US $300 billion to remove phosphorus from polluted water courses.

For the full Our Phosphorus Future report and videos summarising each chapter, see www.opfglobal.com

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.