Phosphorus flows through the Australian food system: Identifying intervention points as a roadmap to phosphorus security

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Environmental Science and Policy, 2013, 29 pp. 87 - 102
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Global phosphorus scarcity is likely to threaten the world's ability to produce food in the future if concerted efforts to ensure long-term phosphorus availability and accessibility and to use phosphorus more sustainably in the food system are not taken by policy makers, scientists and industry. Each country is vulnerable to phosphorus scarcity in different ways due to different characteristics of the national food system. However numerous opportunities exist to steer countries on a more sustainable trajectory to buffer food systems against such risks. A country-level phosphorus flow analysis can aid the identification of current inefficiencies, potential points for phosphorus recovery, reduction in losses and facilitate prioritisation of policy measures. This paper presents the findings and implications of a phosphorus flow analysis for Australia. The analysis found that despite being a net food exporter (predominantly to Asia), Australia is a net phosphorus importer (80. kt/a of P) to replenish naturally phosphorus-deficient soils and support a phosphorus-intensive agricultural and livestock export sector. Simultaneously, there is a net phosphorus deficiency from the Australian food system (106. kt/a of P) due to substantial losses and inefficiencies from mine to field to fork. The livestock sector represents over 60% of Australia's phosphorus demand due to fertilised pastures and animal feed. The manure produced by the 211 million head of livestock in Australia alone contains 60 times more phosphorus than the food consumed by the entire Australian population. Key opportunities to increase the resilience of the Australian food system include: increasing manure reuse, phosphorus use efficiency in fertilised pastures, investigate phosphorus recovery from phosphogypsum waste stockpiles and investigating more phosphorus-efficient food and agricultural commodities-particularly to reduce exported and wasted phosphorus whilst maintaining or enhancing productivity. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
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