J-WAFS-funded MIT research team shows a new method of fertilizer production can better suit the needs of farms in Africa and around the globe.
Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the three elements that support the productivity of all plants used for agriculture, and are the constituents of commercial fertilizers that farmers use throughout the world.
Potassium (also referred to as potash) is largely produced in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is abundant. In fact, the potash market is dominated by just a few producers, largely in Canada, Russia, and Belarus. As a result, potash (and fertilizers in general) can be accessed relatively affordably by farmers in northern regions, where it also happens to be a closer match for the soil nutrient needs of their farms and crops.
But that’s not necessarily the case for farmers elsewhere. For tropical growing regions in Brazil and some countries in Africa, differing soil and rock compositions make for a poor match for the fertilizers that are currently on the market. When these fertilizers — which are resource intensive to produce — need to be shipped long distances to reach consumers in Southern Hemisphere countries, costs can skyrocket. When the fertilizer isn’t the right match for the soil needs, farmers may need to add more in order to achieve as much gain as their counterparts in the north, if they are even able to afford more in the first place.