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Societal responses for addressing nitrogen fertilizer needs: Balancing food production and environmental concerns

Palm, C.A.; Machado, P.L.O.A.; Mahmood, T.; Melillo, J.; Murrell, S.T.; Nymangara, J.; Scholes, M.; Sisworo, E.; Olesen, J.E.; Pender, J.; Stewart, J. and Galloway, J.N. (2004) Societal responses for addressing nitrogen fertilizer needs: Balancing food production and environmental concerns. In: Mosier, A.R.; Syers, J.K. and Freney, J.R. (Eds.) Agriculture and the nitrogen cycle: assessing the impacts of fertilizer use on food production and the environment. SCOPE, no. 65. Island Press, chapter 5, pp. 71-89.

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The N fertilizer accessibility and use situations have arisen primarily from a suite of national and international policies in agriculture and environmental sectors. There is currently closer interaction among these sectors in Europe and to some extent in the US that strive to balance food production and pollution concerns. When we look to the future, can countries that are beginning to intensify their agricultural production learn from the experiences of others? Are there measures that can be taken to stave off serious environmental problems before they occur? Where environmental problems do exist, how can future policies be crafted to solve these problems while ensuring food security and boosting economies?
Effective policies that focus on food security and rural development must ensure sufficient infrastructure that provide access to fertilizers and other inputs and to deliver products to the national and international markets. Provision of financial assistance and knowledge through education, research and extension are also critical. Effective uptake of improved agricultural production will also probably initially require some type of subsidy for fertilizers or crop price supports. Such infrastructure and services requires an active involvement of the government. Developing countries should not refrain from supporting fertilizer use because of fear of environmental pollution. There is currently a higher risk of degrading the agricultural production potential of the land through soil degradation due to insufficient fertilizer use. Nevertheless, there needs to be an awareness of the potential environmental effects so that regulations can be put in place at the appropriate time. Such environmental concerns should now be addressed in many parts of Asia but are probably a couple of decades away in much of SSA.
In areas where environmental problems due to excessive N use exist, future policies must be carefully constructed to ensure that past environmental gains are preserved, and be flexible enough to accommodate new knowledge. A portfolio approach ensures that a suite of options exists to address individual situations as well as multi-faceted problems. Policies targeting N management practices must be in line with guidelines for free trade.
Agriculture must not only provide food and fiber for a growing world population but also a number of other ecosystems services, including clean air and water, and preservation of biodiversity and landscapes. This concept requires finding the appropriate balance among the environmental, social and economic functions in different regions. A multifunctional agriculture can only be implemented through closely integrated policies within agriculture, environment, research and education. It will also require a close collaboration between public and private sector participants.

EPrint Type:Book chapter
Keywords:nitrogen, fertiliser
Subjects: Soil > Nutrient turnover
Research affiliation: Denmark > DARCOF II (2000-2005) > I. 3 (BIOMOD) Interaction between nitrogen dynamics, crop production and biodiversity
Deposited By: Olesen, Senior scientist Jørgen E.
ID Code:4669
Deposited On:31 Mar 2005
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:30
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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