Knowledge for better food systems

Call for greater nutrient use efficiency

The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) and the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) have published a ‘key messages’ statement for Rio+20. The document highlights the problems caused by excessive nutrient use on the one hand, and insufficient use on the other, and identifies nine key actions as being central to improving nutrient use efficiency, thereby improving food and energy production while reducing N and P losses that pollute our environment. 

These actions as follows:

Agriculture
1. Improving nutrient use efficiency in crop production,
2. Improving nutrient use efficiency in animal production,
3. Increasing the fertilizer equivalence value of animal manure,

Transport and Industry
4. Low-emission combustion and energy-efficient systems, including renewable sources,
5. Development of NOx capture and utilization technology,

Waste & Recycling
6. Improving nutrient efficiency in food supply & reducing food waste,
7. Recycling nitrogen and phosphorus from waste water systems, in cities, agriculture and industry,

Societal consumption patterns
8. Energy and transport saving,
9. Lowering the human consumption of animal protein (avoiding excess).

The document says: These actions must be seen in the context of the wider N and P cycles, considering acquisition, use and recycling. Efforts are needed to improve the nutrient use efficiency (NUE) of each stage, such as crop in crop and animal production. However, we emphasize especially the need to address the “full-chain NUE”, defined as the ratio of nutrients in final products (e.g. human food consumed) to new nutrient inputs (e.g., Haber-Bosch Nr, biological N fixation, NOx formation, mined P and N).

These actions must be seen in the context of the wider N and P cycles, considering acquisition, use and recycling. Efforts are needed to improve the nutrient use efficiency (NUE) of each stage, such as crop in crop and animal production. However, we emphasize especially the need to address the “full-chain NUE”, defined as the ratio of nutrients in final products (e.g., human food consumed) to new nutrient inputs (e.g. Haber-Bosch Nr, biological N fixation, NOx formation, mined P and N).

Actions promoting the recycling of available Nr and P pools, such as effective recycling of animal manures, human sewage and NOx capture and utilization technology all contribute to increasing full-chain NUE. The options include many technical measures, such as improved fertilizer placement and timing, the use of manure storage and spreading methods that reduce emissions, and the processing of manures into more efficient fertilizers.

Our choices as citizens make a big difference. While some remain undernourished, people in many countries  eat more animal products than is optimal for a healthy diet. Avoiding over-consumption of animal products (e.g., staying within World Health Organization guidelines for saturated fats) increases full-chain NUE, reducing N and P pollution, while benefiting our health. The global economic benefits for the environment and human health by avoiding over-consumption of animal products still need to be quantified. However, the central role of livestock in contributing to nutrient pollution is well established. In the European Nitrogen Assessment, it was estimated that 85% of harvested Nr was used to feed livestock, with only 15% feeding people directly, while the average EU citizen consumed 70% more protein than needed for a healthy diet.

Reference

Our Nutrient World. The challenge to produce more food & energy with less pollution. Key Messages for Rio+20.

You can download the statement here.

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