Market transparency is crucial when it comes to fertiliser trade since reduced availability and accessibility, interruption of supply chains and soaring prices jeopardise farmers’ ability to grow food, the World Food Forum was told today (Friday, October 21).

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, made the comments at an event entitled ‘Global Assessment and Solutions for the Fertilizer Crisis’, aimed at assessing the current market situation with fertilisers and potential science-based solutions that could help to cope with the situation.

To ensure smooth trade in fertilisers, the Director-General highlighted the need for strengthening political will, solidarity and collaboration.

While warning about possible negative environmental effects from misuse or overuse of fertiliser, Qu also encouraged countries to invest in big data and soil nutrition maps and monitoring and improve fertiliser use efficiency.

Fertiliser prices

Fertiliser prices reached all-time highs in 2022, and energy and natural gas prices remain elevated and volatile.

As a result, farmers are facing increased production costs and reduced affordability, which are affecting their farming activities, the forum heard.

The event, which was moderated by FAO chief economist Maximo Torero.

It also included Redouane Arrach, deputy Minister of Agriculture Maritime Fisheries, Rural Development and water and Forests of the Kingdom of Morocco; Patrick Heffer, vice director general of the International Fertilizer Association; Areli Ceron Trejo, director-general of land and water of the Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico; Upendra Singh, vice-president of research, the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC); and Monica Andres, executive vice-president Europe, Yara International.

The panellists highlighted the major drivers behind fertiliser price spikes including: High energy prices; trade restrictions; import subsidies; high and volatile transportation costs; and declining affordability.

Food security

The participants in the event also discussed striking the right balance between the need to produce more food to address global food insecurity and optimise fertiliser use.

They also emphasised the need to make sure that smallholder farmers, especially in less developed countries, have access to the right fertilisers.

Other major topics discussed by the panel included reducing carbon footprint resulting from excessive use or misuse of fertilisers; promoting alternative sources such as bio-fertilisers; composting; bio-stimulants and nutrient cycling to improve the soil health; investing in fertiliser research; leveraging digital soil nutrition mapping and bringing it to the farmers’ level.

The event also heard that significant capacity of soils to store, transform, and recycle nutrients was essential to produce healthy food and preserve biodiversity.

The FAO Global Soil Partnership is currently beginning mapping soil fertility nutrient budgets, following a country-driven approach.

Such maps are expected to guide farmers in identifying the best soil fertility strategies, including blending of fertilisers to increase efficiency, decrease unnecessary use and reduce production costs.