Phosphorus is a chemical element central to biology and, due to its role as a fertilizer, to agricultural production. Nonetheless, concerns about the medium- and long-term sustainability of the current P-use practices are increasing. These concerns involve the well-known, but seemingly intractable, problem of P runoff from farms, towns, and cities as well as more recent geological and geopolitical uncertainties about sources of P. These issues surrounding P sustainability are deeply complex and involve diverse geological, biogeochemical, economic, and geopolitical dimensions. However, environmental degradation due to nutrient runoff and potential threats to global food security urgently call for an end to this disjointed approach to phsphorus. We need to synthesize data, perspectives, and understanding about phosphorus to analyze, envision, and communicate solutions for P sustainability. This is the goal of our P Sustainability Resarch Coordination Network(RCN).
The P RCN has identified two main challenges for achieving a closed (and thus sustainable human P cycle that must be met:
- Challenge 1: Improving P efficiency in food production.
- Challenge 2: Developing Robust pathways of P recycling.
Finally, making progress on these two challenges presents a third, even broader, challenge:
- Challenge 3: Integrating efficiency and recycling to create a sustainable food system.
Current human use of P is unsustainable, as geopolitical uncertainties threaten food security while wasteful use pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans.
The P Sustainability RCN will:
- Coordinate and integrate disconnected geological, agronomic, biogeochemical, economic, and sociological data and perspectives related to P sustainability;
- Design and assess institutional, commercial, technological, and pyschological solutions in conservation, recycling, and equitable distribution to establish P sustainability;
- Engage policy makers throughout the process to bridge the gap between undertanding and enacting solutions.