Nearly 90 percent of the limited geological reserves of P are located in only five countries: Morocco and Western Sahara, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. With only 12 mines in the U.S., and those expected to be depleted within 20-30 years, people should be concerned, says Childers. "Sustainability needs to become a priority. Many regions of world are completely dependent on imports for fertilizer. We need new ways to recycle, reclaim, and reuse what we have."
Rising energy costs complicate predictions on when mines might run out, as does limited knowledge about the reserves themselves. Donald Burt, professor of geology with ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, believes that peak phosphorus production might actually occur considerably earlier than 2034, if the effects of peak oil become acute before then. "Energy use impacts not just mining, but also packing, storing, transporting and applying phosphate rock and fertilizers," says Burt.
Sustainable P organizers agree: "The price of phosphate rock rose 400 percent in a recent 14 month period. Current practices are not sustainable for the long term due to decreasing geologic reserves of P, limited mines and increasing demand for this nutrient for farming due to population growth, growing affluence and bioenergy production."
Additional concerns include inefficient use and overuse of fertilizers and problems with runoff from urban and agricultural sites, which dumps P into waterways, creating ecological and economic damage, such as massive coastal "dead zones."
The scientists also cite a lack of international organizations, policies, or regulatory frameworks governing global P resources for food security.
Developing solutions will be complicated, involving all sectors of public life, points out life sciences doctoral student, Michelle McCrackin. For ex
|Contact: Margaret Coulombe|
Arizona State University