Long-term shortage of manufactured fertilizers

In the present state of agricultural technology, chemical fertilizers constitute one of the most important single means to increase food production. Increasing application of fertilizers is a key element of the package that has made possible most of the increase in agricultural productivity achieved over recent years. The successes of the high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice derive from the fact that they are highly fertilizer-responsive. Use of fertilizers in developing countries, although still relatively low, has been doubling every five years. A serious deficit in the physical supplies of fertilizers available for the continuing expansion of usage in developing countries, therefore, must be considered as nothing less than a major world problem. That such a problem is developing is indicated by the current shortage and high prices of fertilizers, as well as by the underlying longer-term trends of supply and demand.

In theory, supply gaps could be filled either by additional production in the developing world (but not necessarily in each individual country), or by imports from the developed countries. However, it now seems unlikely that the developed countries will be in a position to fill the entire fertilizer gap in developing countries. The recent spurt in prices has generated large new investment in fertilizer capacity in developed countries; but there is still a large uncovered gap between expected requirements and likely supply, particularly in developing countries. The actual magnitude of this gap would of course depend on the rate at which the expansion of fertilizer capacity actually takes place in the next 4-5 years. The situation is changing very rapidly, and it is very hazardous to forecast the actual gaps. There are, however, a variety of factors which will determine the future supply/demand balance, including the persistence of high fertilizer prices, the ability of traditional producing countries to assure themselves of feedstock supplies on a long-term contract basis, and the initiatives taken to build new capacity in both developing and developed countries.

Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
ManufactureChemical productsScarcity
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET