Phosphate supply: «One of the most important issues in the world today»
«In a few years’ time, it could be a political issue with some countries effectively controlling the production of food by having control of rock phosphate supplies.»
These are not my words, but those of a scientist from a UK agricultural research centre. His expert opinion was quoted recently in a Guardian article, along with this warning about our global phosphate supply:
‘In a few years’ time, it could be a political issue with some countries effectively controlling the production of food by having control of rock phosphate supplies,” says Martin Blackwell of Rothamsted Research. “There should be a lot more effort being put in so we are ready to deal with it. It is time to wake up. It is one of the most important issues in the world today.’
On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more. The global population is growing, and we will need more food in the future. Phosphate is an important component of environmentally-friendly fertilisers, needed to feed the world. On the other hand, the scientist can’t have heard about Norway’s phosphate reserves; our investigations so far show these to be extensive.
Farm to fork
In fact, a key component of the recent European Green Deal plan is its Farm to Fork strategy, which it aims to launch in spring 2020. This will include a broader debate covering all the stages of the food chain to pave the way to formulating a more sustainable food policy. I believe phosphates should be a vital part of this chain, and we welcome further talks with the European Union about our licences in Norway and our phosphate supply potential for Europe – and the world.
It’s important to touch on nitrogen-based fertilisers here. They became widely used after World War II, and without doubt, have helped feed billions of people. But – and there is a big but – their over-use has come at a cost to our planet, according to scientists. Nitrate pollution, in the form of runoff from crops, can seep into our streams, lakes and the ocean. Nitrous oxide is also emitted from these types of fertilisers – a greenhouse gas that is thought to contribute to climate change. Replacing nitrogen with phosphates, therefore, could contribute to the more sustainable future the European Union is trying to create with its ‘Green Deal’.
Over-use and pollution
Interestingly, the Guardian article states that an excessive use of phosphates is also ‘causing widespread pollution’. Over-application of phosphate fertilisers can be a problem. As with use of any fertiliser, it’s down to mindful use and common sense. More rigorous guidelines are needed globally to stop this unnecessary waste. And yet, compared to nitrogen, I believe it provides a more natural alternative – one that’s friendlier to our planet.
The Guardian article goes on to state that rock phosphate is a ‘finite resource and the biggest supplies are mined in politically unstable places, posing risks to the many countries that have little or no reserves.’ This is why phosphates are on the European Union’s list of Critical Raw Materials (see map of biggest suppliers of CRMs to Europe). However, Norway’s strategically friendly location within Europe’s borders may provide a panacea to this problem, despite claims that ‘only Finland has supplies in the EU.’
Averting the crisis
Norway’s future role has so far been overlooked – not on purpose, but because people have not yet heard of the country’s huge potential to provide a secure supply to Europe – and the world – that may last many decades. Not only phosphates, but another EU ‘Critical Raw Material’ – vanadium. This would certainly negate the impending doom predicted by scientists that current supplies will be exhausted by 2040. And reduce the fear of being reliant on politically unstable countries for these vital materials. Is it an ‘imminent crisis’? Yes, of sorts – but one that can be averted.