FAO Presents: “Sound Fertilization for Food Security in the context of the current crisis”

The FAO’s recent webcast on Sound Fertilization for Food Security in the Context of the Current Crisis comes at a critical time for the agricultural sector. In recent years, farmers have faced a number of setbacks. Along with extreme weather conditions, the agricultural sector’s attempt to recover from supply chain disruptions during the pandemic has been hampered by an unprecedented destabilization of global trade caused by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. Globally, Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of fertilizer, with the rest of the world relying heavily on them for food production. The consequences of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine depict the extent to which our dependence on external inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers, and global value chains have made us vulnerable to a global food crisis.

The webcast launched with an urgent call for change from FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Beth Bechdol, who highlighted the need to re-evaluate our global food systems by implementing sound fertilization techniques that are resilient to future socio-economic and environmental shocks. Patrick Heffer, Deputy Director General at the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) provided a forecast of fertilizer supply, suggesting that a global decline is expected until 2023, after which the potential for recovery is highly dependent on the state of the global trade routes and whether current circumstances persist.

FAO’s guest speakers delivered compelling presentations, emphasizing the importance of moving away from synthetic fertilizers towards more sustainable and organic approaches. Professor Laurie Drinkwater, from the School of Integrative Plant Science Horticulture Section at Cornell University, proposed a new way of thinking about and understanding the meaning of sound fertilization. She highlighted that the 4Rs, despite improving nutrient management, do not actually build on Soil Organic Matter (SOM) or enrich the soil. Using inorganic fertilizers is the least effective way of promoting SOM because it focuses on providing plants with nutrients while degrading a vital component of the food system, the soil.

Both Gabrial Soto, Representative of IFOAM, and Janet Maro, CEO Programme at Farmers’ Association Sustainable Agriculture in Tanzania, brought a fresh perspective from the field by further supporting the idea that a more holistic approach to food production is required. The key factor emphasized on was the need to recycle organic matter through the ecosystem to enrich the soil, which in turn nourishes plants. Gabriel Soto further voiced the importance of promoting a diversified and balanced nutrient management system, by planting the right types of vegetation that are able to improve productivity. Professor Zhang Fusuo, Chief Scientist of Plant Nutrition at the China Agricultural University, emphasized on the importance of combining all possible measures to improve yield and reduce nutrient loss. Many of these measures are often overlooked when using chemical fertilizers, which provides a one-stop solution. Improving yields through organic methods will mean using all sources of nutrients more creatively and efficiently, including those from irrigation water, manure and soil.

Professor Manish Raizada from the Department of Plant Agriculture in Guelph delivered a thought-provoking presentation on harnessing the power of microbial fertilizers to improve crop yields. Biofertilizer microbes are able to bypass the soil entirely, delivering nutrients directly to plants. This is particularly beneficial for farming regions with low SOM and higher levels of soil leaching. His presentation highlighted the additional benefits of biofertilizers, including their ability to assist with all 14 nutrients required, stimulate root growth to tolerate drought, and fight nematodes, insects and diseases. More importantly, once the infrastructure is built, biofertilizers are an affordable, locally available resource to farmers at the start of the growing season. This is because they rely primarily on local labour, rather than globally traded commodities like synthetic fertilizers.

The FAO webcast is a crucial step towards re-evaluating our reliance on global value chains and the mass production of food within the agricultural sector. The shift towards organic fertilizers is one of many changes that need to be made to ensure a resilient and sustainable food system for future generations to come.

Within Canada, the Farmers for Climate Solutions reiterated the importance of this shift, through an ambitious roadmap aimed at providing recommendations to make climate change the central theme of Canada’s next Agricultural Policy Framework, set to govern agricultural spending across Canada for the next 5 years, as of 2023. Amongst the recommendations made includes the need for a system-wide approach that supports farmers to adapt to the changing climate, improve soil health, increase the organic matter in soil and increase biodiversity within farms. Converting to organic farming will take time, and if anything, the recent events around the world have shown us that it is important to start now.

For more information on best practices check out Farmpedia or Best Practices for ​Subsistence Farmers​ by Prof. Manish N. Raizada.

You can also find FAO’s webcast here.

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