By Carolina Rodríguez Alonso. Fertiberia Chair of Agri-environmental Studies
The last 20 years have witnessed a series of fundamental changes in world agriculture that have resulted in a radical transformation. Added value has increased by 73% even though the contribution to world GDP, at 4%, has remained stable. Mechanisation has advanced significantly, reducing the number of people employed in agriculture from 40% to 27%. Agricultural land per capita has decreased from 0.24 ha in 2000 to 0.20 ha in 2019. On the other hand, irrigation has increased by 18%.
In 2019, fertiliser use was about 190 million tonnes in terms of nutrients, 40% more than in 2000. Nitrogen accounts for 57% of this volume, while phosphorus accounts for 23% and potassium for 20%. The main consumers of fertilisers, in this order, are China, India, the United States and Brazil.
In terms of application per unit area, the highest intensity is in Asia (180 kg/ha), followed by America (135 kg/ha), Oceania (82 kg/ha), Europe (80 kg/ha) and Africa (26 kg/ha).
Considering the three main nutrients, N, P2O5 and K2O, their balance varies significantly depending on the major world regions.
The most consumed nutrient is nitrogen, which accounts for 64% of the total in Europe and 49% in the Americas. Potassium, the second most important nutrient by volume, accounts for 26% of the total main nutrients consumed in the Americas and 19% in Europe. Phosphorus accounts for 17% of the total consumed in Europe.
Soil nitrogen balance represents the difference between nitrogen inputs and the amount removed by crop production.
Globally, this balance has worsened between 2000 and 2018, increasing mainly until 2010, when it started to stabilise. In Europe, the situation is quite different: starting from a better balance in 2000, there is a reduction in nitrogen surplus at the end of the period. On the other hand, in Oceania, the balance is completely skewed, and higher inputs have not been offset by higher withdrawals.
In relation to organic farming, in 2019, the countries with the largest area devoted to this practice were Austria (25%), Sweden (20%) and the Czech Republic (15%).
References: FAO. 2021. World Food and Agriculture – Statistical Yearbook 2021. Rome. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4477en