The hidden cost of phosphate fertilizers: mapping multi-stakeholder supply chain risks and impacts from mine to fork

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Global Change, Peace and Security, 2015, 27 (3), pp. 323 - 343
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© 2015 Taylor & Francis. Without phosphorus, we could not produce food. Farmers need access to phosphate fertilizers to achieve the high crop yields needed to feed the world. Yet growing global demand for phosphorus could surpass supply in the coming decades, and the world currently largely relies on non-renewable phosphate rock that is mined in only a few countries. Morocco alone controls 75% of the remaining reserves, including those in the conflict territory of Western Sahara. While some argue that the market will take care of any scarcity, the market price of phosphate fertilizers fails to account for far-ranging negative impacts. Drawing on multi-stakeholder supply chain risk frameworks, the article identifies a range of negative impacts, including the exploitation and displacement of the Saharawi people, the destruction of aquatic ecosystems by nutrient pollution, and jeopardizing future generations' ability to produce food. This paper fills a crucial gap in understanding phosphorus impacts by mapping and discussing the nature of phosphorus supply chain risks, and the transmission of such risks to different stakeholder groups. It also identifies a range of potential interventions to mitigate and manage those risks. In addition, the paper highlights that while risks are diverse, from geopolitical to ecological, those groups adversely affected are also diverse – including the Saharawi people, farmers, businesses, food consumers and the environment. Potential risk mitigation strategies range from resource sparing (using phosphorus more sparingly to extend the life of high quality rock for ourselves and future generations), to resource diversification (sourcing phosphorus from a range of ethical sources to reduce dependence on imported phosphate, as a buffer against supply disruptions, and preferencing those sources with lower societal costs), and sharing the responsibility for these costs and consequences.
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