• “Farmers are paying way too much for fertilizer products because we are transporting millions of tons of material that is not nutrient and because much of the nutrients in applied fertilizers are never used by the crop. Nutrient losses to the environment are high with consequences for global warming and water pollution. “Work should begin now on the next generation of fertilizer products using advanced techniques such as nanotechnology and molecular biology, especially in conjunction with plant genetics research. 'Smart' fertilizer products that will release nutrients only at the time and in the amount needed should be developed.” (August 2008) Dr. Norman Borlaug Nobel Peace Prize Recipient IFDC Board of Directors (1994-2003)
3. Next Generation Fertilizer Technology Priorities The following technological priorities will guide the development and commercialization of the next generation of intelligent fertilizers that must be more failsafe, adaptive, eco-sensitive and economical:
Introduction Following sudden and significant global price hikes in food, fuel and fertilizer in 2007-2008, the IFDC Board of Directors met in early 2009 to discuss the challenges involved in ensuring "responsible, sustainable food security" for the world over the coming decades. In particular, there were three areas of greatest concern in the discussion about food security: the still sizable malnourished population (primarily smallholder farmers and their families in developing regions); the substantial increase projected for global food demand and subsequent higher prices, also primarily in developing regions; and the role of synthetic fertilizers in food security (over 75 percent of global fertilizer consumption is in developing regions). These fertilizers remain essentially and technically unchanged since their launch during the "Green Revolution," but now are being used in an era of scarcer arable land and water, uncertain climatic conditions and heightened environmental and economic sensitivity. In 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided financial support for IFDC to develop a 'proof of concept' to study these areas in greater depth and to identify opportunities for the application of technological advances. IFDC’s proof of concept resulted in the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC), which was launched in May 2010. The VFRC is helping develop a new generation of 'intelligent' fertilizers to enable responsible, sustainable food security, particularly in the world’s developing regions. This document provides the essence of IFDC’s findings and the underpinnings for the VFRC in four chapters:
1. Food Demand and Smallholder Farms Commercial smallholder farmers play a vital role in the overall food supply chain in developing countries. These
farmers’ roles will be even more critical as these countries prepare for the significant growth in food demand expected from continued population growth, urbanization and economic development. While global food demand is projected to increase by 70 percent, the vast majority of this increase is expected to occur in the developing regions, which could face a food demand increase approaching 90 percent by 2050. Accordingly: •
Commercial smallholder farmers must more fully adopt intensive farming practices (including agricultural best practices and the judicious use of fertilizers) to help achieve the yield increase required in the future (around 1.5 percent per year).
In addition, these farmers will need targeted policy interventions by their governments to overcome the economic and infrastructural challenges they face to access needed supplies and land, improve agricultural productivity and participate more fully in post-harvest markets.
2. Current Fertilizers – Challenges and Opportunities
The industry’s response has focused on optimizing production and using highly mechanized application methods (attractive to intensive agriculture in the world's developed regions) for current fertilizers (which are largely unchanged since the 1980s). However, these fertilizers and application techniques are not as effective in the developing regions.
Focus on N and P; improve nitrogen use efficiency by 25-50 percent.
Reduce the risk of crop failure for smallholder farmers.
Increase the convenience and accuracy of delivering secondary nutrients and micronutrients.
Improve or find alternatives to current sourcing and delivery processes that reduce cost, increase selfreliance and lessen environmental impact.
4. VFRC – Purpose and Organization
The VFRC is an innovative initiative established by IFDC specifically to advance and commercialize the technology development priorities for the next generation of fertilizers: •
The VFRC will create the environment and platform in which these fertilizer products and processes will be developed through global research efforts (including partnerships between scientists, governments and businesses) working on a common technology agenda. The VFRC will serve as catalyst, change-agent, stimulator and initiator. It will serve as a coordinator and intermediary among partners to ensure that efficient, consistent and persistent processes move through the technology agenda.
IFDC-trained fertilizer dealers in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Due to increasing land and water scarcity, intensive farming (including the proper use of synthetic fertilizers) and improved supply chain infrastructures must help deliver the nearly 90 percent increase projected in developing regions' food demands. Additionally, these fertilizers must meet the special needs of commercial smallholder farmers who will continue to play a key role in future food supply chains. However: •
Current synthetic fertilizers are often not accessible nor affordable for smallholder farmers in developing countries, and the most commonly used fertilizers – nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) – have physical characteristics that lead to substantial economic waste and adverse environmental impact.