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Report from Sweden: meeting run by Phosphorus Futures

March 5, 2010

Michelle McCrackin (ASU PhD student and Fulbright scholar) sent this report :

“Last week I attended the dissertation defense of Dana Cordell and an international workshop “Phosphorus and Global Food Security”. Both events took place at the Department of Thematic Studies ‐ Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping University in Sweden and were sponsored by the The Global Phosphorus Research Initiative. The goal of the workshop was create dialogue on the challenges and research opportunities regarding phosphorus security and its implications for global food security.  (http://phosphorusfutures.net/news)

As a member of the student organizing committee for the upcoming ASU Frontiers in Life Sciences Sustainable Phosphorus Summit (February 2011), this trip was a tremendous opportunity to learn about P security issues and meet with leading experts.

Some of the take-aways from this conference:

•    There is an imbalance between the northern and southern hemispheres with respect to realized societal benefits of P.  Significant amounts of P rock are shipped from mines in Africa to the northern hemisphere for conversion to fertilizer and application to crops. Yet, disproportionately little of this P is returned to Africa in terms of fertilizer or food. Indeed, commercial fertilizers are not affordable by many African farmers. This skewed distribution is mirrored by patterns of obesity (greater in northern versus southern hemisphere).

•    In addition to feeding 3 billion more people during this century, it will be a challenge to provide housing as well. This will require major land development and the potential loss of arable land, but also the opportunity to implement smarter sanitation systems. The current challenge in urban areas is the lack of appropriate infrastructure and large investment requirements.

•    Conservation of P is a more effective strategy than recovery of P through recycling. In the pathway from mine, to farmer, to fork, and beyond the toilet, there is significant P waste.

•    A vegetarian diet is more sustainable than a meat-based diet; however, some meat (beef) has higher P requirements than other meat (chicken). In addition to future population growth, a challenge for P sustainability will be shifting diets in the developing world towards increased meat consumption.

•    There is no single solution or “low hanging fruit” to address sustainable P issues. In addition, there are significant challenges presented by institutional fragmentation across all stakeholder groups – in other words, no one organization owns these issues.”

Thanks Michelle!

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