November 13, 2022
Global leaders are gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss work to mitigate climate change and prevent the global temperature rise from topping 1.5 degrees C. Actions being taken in the United States are getting plenty of attention including the $2.8 billion in funding for climate smart agriculture. Adding to that, during the COP27 event, Vilsack announced USDA investment in key global initiatives.
In his remarks at the event, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced USDA was forming an International Climate Hub “that will enable us to capture and share internationally what we’re learning through our investments in climate smart programs and the initiative,” he says. “We’re excited about the opportunity to learn from each other.”
The Climate Hub will be modeled after USDA’s domestic Climate Hubs. Those domestic hubs are a model for developing and delivering science-based, region-specific information and technologies to U.S. agricultural managers to enable climate-informed decision making. The international hub will offer information and resources tailored to specific regions and needs, including a focus on the countries and producers most vulnerable to the effects of global climate change. In addition, the agency will invest in the Global Fertilizer Challenge.
Global Fertilizer Challenge launched
There’s a growing global crisis that will impact food security – a shortage of fertilizer. During COP27, a consortium of countries working to tackle the problem. The result is $135 million in new funding for fertilizer efficiency. Rick Duke, deputy special envoy for climate, U.S. State Department, made the announcement ahead of a panel discussion focused on the global fertilizer shortage.
Duke notes this is “brand new funding for fertilizer efficiency in order to help the world address part of the food security challenge that is too often neglected, which is how do we maximize the food production benefit of every kilogram of increasingly expensive and scarce fertilizer in the way that we apply it, the way that we measure it’s efficiency?”
A panel of speakers discussed the fertilizer challenge, kicked off by Vilsack who announced USDA’s role in that effort. He explains that the effort is part of a Biden Administration goal of raising more than $100 million worldwide. “USDA is investing $25 million to enable and to help countries improve fertilizer efficiency,” he says.
The effort is in two parts. $20 million will be focused on the Fertilize Right initiative through which USDA will work with governments and local organizations worldwide to advance fertilizer efficiency and nutrient management starting with Brazil, Colombia, Pakistan and Vietnam.
The second part is for the Efficient Fertilizer Consortium, to be established by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and implemented in partnership with AIM for Climate a joint initiative by the United States and the United Arab Emirates to address climate change and global hunger. The Efficient Fertilizer Consortium will receive $5 million.
Vilsack adds the $5 million will be matched by FFAR to support international research and evaluation projects “to improve our understanding of greenhouse gas mitigation and yield benefits of enhanced efficiency fertilizers across regions with different climates, weather patterns and soil types.”
Discussing the fertilizer challenge
A global panel of dignitaries were on hand for the Global Fertilizer Challenge announcement to discuss the effort ahead. They stated common themes and actions from advancing financing to providing training and technical support to improve nutrient use on all types of farms.
Janusz Wojciechowski, commissioner of agriculture, European Union, notes that the global fertilizer challenge was launched “in the middle of a global fertilizer crisis, which is rooted in a number of causes. The Covid 19 pandemic and the supply chain disruptions that followed already contributed to very high global fertilizer prices in 2021, then came Russia’s illegal aggression in Ukraine,” he says.
As part of the aggression, Wojciechowski notes that Russia is using food security as a weapon including its wavering on the Black Sea Grain Initiative. “We must keep in mind the fake news and manipulation of narratives by Russia when reflecting on our approach to the fertilizer challenges,” he says.
In addition, more dramatic climatic events – droughts and floods – which have become more frequent in recent years makes the Global Fertilizer Challenge more important. “We must work together to increase fertilizer efficiency, improve soil health and water quality, and improve productivity,” he says.
The EU is already acting on the availability front opening use of emergency financial tools to mitigate immediate cost challenges farmers in the region face. And the region is working on methods to reduce nutrient losses by 50% by 2030. Wojciechowski adds that even with this reduction, the work will not impact production levels or the EU contribution to global food security.
The work of the Global Fertilizer Challenge will focus not only on ways to mitigate use of mineral fertilizers but on new tools including biological products to enhance nutrient efficiency, and green sources of nitrogen using renewable gas sources. Natural gas is a core component in the production of mineral nitrogen, an issue of focus for many speakers.
An interesting fertilizer position
Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, found himself in an interesting position during the panel discussion. “I start with a secret that I never could imagine in my life that I would sit on a podium discussing fertilizers in a positive way,” he says. “I’m an environmentalist by heart. I started as a young environmentalist and sorry commissioner for agriculture I was always fighting in my life for less use of mineral fertilizers.”
Yet Flasbarth was on this fertilizer panel discussing the issue for what he calls “very sad reasons.” He adds: “We are sitting in a disaster. We were already moving in the wrong direction with regard to hunger and poverty,” he says. The issue is compounded by the pandemic and global conflict.
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He points out that the potential risk of cutting food production by 20 million tons would put 100 million people at greater risk for hunger. “We must not accept that, and that is why I’m in this strange situation that I’m running around and trying to find mineral fertilizers wherever I can get them,” he says.
But he adds that he’s proud to be part of the fertilizer challenge aimed at new approaches and reducing use. “Germany will support the challenge with 13.6 million euros,” he says. Of the total, 12.6 million euros will be directed at sub-Saharan Africa and another 1 million euros will be directed to India with a focus on improving fertilizer use efficiency.
Luis Alberto Villegas Prado, vice minister for ag, Colombia, discussed that country’s use of fertilizer. “In Colombia, through our research sponsored by USDA found out that we consumed 300,000 tons of nitrogen per year but through research done by the National Research Center on Coffee demonstrated nitrogen losses at 34%,” he says.
The push for biofertilizers
At the same time, there is a growing industry of biofertilizers in the country with the aim of replacing 30% of the mineral fertilizers used by producers. The key is to connect the research to action, Prado says. The country is expanding technical assistance and extension services to farmers to promote better practices. The second is to work on scaling those biofertilizers with small farmers, which is key because he notes 30% of the country's farmers don’t use fertilizer at all. And the third action is to promote the work globally to integrate small farmers into the value chain.
And where is the fertilizer industry in the discussion? Alzbeta Klein, CEO of the International Fertilizer Association shared that the first challenge is solving the need to make fertilizer available. “First and foremost, we need to solve the affordability of fertilizers and at the same time we have to sort out the sustainability of fertilizers,” she says.
The Global Fertilizer Challenge “goes a long way to sort out sustainability of the product, and I’m very proud to say that last year the industry embarked on the ammonia technology roadmap globally for how to reduce emissions of ammonia at the factory,” she adds.
Klein notes that “there is no better time to think about efficiency of the product than when the environment is tight, and we have to sort out affordability and availability.” She did warn that availability will remain an issue especially for subsistence farmers who do not have access to financing. To combat that the fertilizer industry is working to create the SUSTAIN-Africa initiative to deliver fertilizer to countries in Africa at a price the farmer can afford.
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