Think the global fertilizer shortage is someone else’s problem? Take a look in the mirror. If you are reading this in North America, Europe, Latin America, or Asia, chances are that the bundle of amino acids staring back at you is alive today because of chemical fertilizers.
In fact, according to noted Canadian energy researcher Vaclav Smil, two-fifths of humanity –more than three billion people—are alive because of nitrogen fertilizer, the main ingredient in the Green Revolution that supercharged the agricultural sector in the 1960s. The chemical fertilizer trifecta that tripled global grain production—nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K)—enabled the greatest human population growth the planet has ever seen. Now, it is in short supply, and farmers, fertilizer companies, and governments around the globe are scrambling to avert a seemingly inevitable tumble in crop yields.
“I’m not sure it’s possible any more to avoid a food crisis,” says World Farmers’ Organization President Theo de Jager. “The question is how wide and deep it will be. Most importantly, farmers need peace. And peace needs farmers.”
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a body blow to an industry that has been hammered by various events for more than a year. Russia typically exports nearly 20 percent of the world’s nitrogen fertilizers and, combined with its sanctioned neighbor Belarus, 40 percent of the world’s exported potassium, according to analysts at Rabobank. Most of that is now off limits to the world’s farmers, thanks to Western sanctions and Russia’s recent fertilizer export restrictions…