Total fertiliser consumption - outlook from FAO
Justification for indicator selection
The use of mineral and organic fertilizers in agriculture to increase cropping power increases environmental hazards, such as water and soil pollution, and has negative effects on other environmental components, interfering with the natural balance of soil microflora. High levels of nitrate and nitrite in drinking water are a hazard to human health. The actual environmental effects will depend on pollution abatement methods, soil and plant types, and meteorological conditions. Time series analysis of fertilizers consumption allows monitoring of its effect on the environment and enables preparation of strategies for mitigation of negative impacts of fertilizers on the environment.
The outlook presents plausible future of fertilizer consumption in European region and can be used for estimation of its impact on environment (particularly when it comes to water and soil pollution). It helps to assess achievability of targets and identify appropriate policy response options for making agriculture more sustainable.
Total fertiliser consumption refers to the total sum of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P2O5) and potash (K2O) used in agriculture. The time reference is generally the crop year (July through June).
Model used: FAO
Time horizon: 1997/99- 2020
Geographical coverage: Sub-Saharah Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Near East/ North Africa, South Asia, South Asia excl. India, East Asia, East Asia excl. China, Industrial Coutnries, Transition Countries, World.
Fertilizer consumption is measured in two ways: million tones and kg/ha (arable land).
Policy context and targets
Pan-european policy context
There no specific policies adopted for for Pan-European region. However, the Helsinki Commission for the Protection of Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea (HELCOM) has developed recommendations for its Parties in this regard.
EU policy context
The fertiliser use is relevant to two EU Directives: the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). The Nitrates Directive (Council of the European Communities, 1991) has the general purpose of "reducing water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources and prevent further such pollution" (Art.1). A threshold nitrate concentration of 50 mg/l is set as the maximum permissible level, and the Directive limits applications of livestock manure to land to 170 kg N/ha/yr. The Water Framework Directive (Council of the European Communities, 2000) requires all inland and coastal waters to reach "good status" by 2015. Good ecological status is defined in terms of the quality of the biological community, hydrological characteristics and chemical characteristics. The Sixth environmental action programme (European Commission, 2001), encourages the full implementation of both the Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, in order to achieve levels of water quality that do not give rise to unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.
EECCA policy context
No specific policy context directly related to the indicator is identified at the subregional level. Indirectly emphasizes a need 'to implement practices for increase of nutrients levels' and 'to provide preconditions for facilitating production of environmentally clean food', which subsequently include amount of used fertilizers.
There is no specific target for this indicator
- Requirement for all inland and coastal waters to reach "good status" by 2015 (The Water Framework Directive (Council of the European Communities, 2000))
- Limits applications of livestock manure to land to 170 kg N/ha/yr (The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC))
- A threshold nitrate concentration of 50 mg/l is set as the maximum permissible level (The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC))
Some countries set national targets for the use of nutrients per hectare frame however these targets are not reported at the international level. Special research is needed to identify availability of targets at the EECCA countries.
Related policy documents
Council Directive (91/676/EEC) 12 December 1991
Council Directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (91/676/EEC).
Helsinki declaration on action for environment and health in Europe
Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC
Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC: Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.
Key policy question
Are fertilizers being used in a more efficient/sustainable way?
Specific policy question
Has the environmental impact of agriculture been reduced?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Projections for fertilizer consumption have been derived on the basis of the relationship between yields and fertilizer application rates that existed during 1995/97. Data on fertilizer use by crop and fertilizer application rates (kg of fertilizer per ha) are available for all major countries and crops, accounting for 97 percent of global fertilizer use in 1995/97 (FAO/IFA/IFDC, 1999 and Harris, 1997). This relationship is estimated on a cross-section basis for the crops for which data are available and is assumed to hold also over time as yields increase (see Daberkov et al., 1999). It provides a basis for estimating future fertilizer application rates required to obtain the projected increase in yields for most of the crops covered in this study. It implicitly assumes that improvements in nutrient use efficiency will continue to occur as embodied in the relationship between yields and fertilizer application rates (fertilizer response coefficients) estimated for 1995/97.
For more detailed information concerned indicator's calculations see "Methodology references".
Methodology for gap filling
For some crop categories such as citrus, vegetables, fruit and “other cereals”, fertilizer consumption growth is assumed to be equal to the growth in crop production: i.e. for these crops, the base year input-output relationship between fertilizer use and crop production is assumed to remain constant over the projection period. To account fully for all fertilizer consumption, including its use for crops not covered in this study, fertilizer applications on fodder crops were assumed to grow at the same rate as projected growth for livestock (meat and milk) production, and fertilizer applications on “other crops” is at the average rate for all crops covered in the study.
For more detailed description see "Methodology references".
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
- Input for FAO model - fertilizer use by crop and fertilizer application rates - output from Harris, G. 1997
- Input for FAO model - fertilizer use by crop and fertilizer application rates - output from FAO/IFA/IFDC, 1999
- Input for FAO model - fertiliser use efficiency rates, yields increase over time - output from IFA
- Output from FAO - fertilizer consumption
Data sources in latest figures
Uncertainty related to the model
The biggest problems related to the use of the FAO model is related to the data uncertainly (see below). Other most important uncertainties include some problems with the exogenous assumptions and use of only one scenario.
Some problems with the exogenous assumptions: As an example was mentioned the impossibility of foreseeing which countries may face extraordinary events leading to their being worse off in the future than at present.
One scenario: the model presentes only one possible outcome for the future based on a positive rather than normative assessment. Alternative scenarios have not been explored for a number of reasons, some conceptual, some practical, and usually a mix of both. Producing an alternative scenario is essentially a remake of the projections with a different set of assumptions. On the practical side, the major constraint is the time-consuming nature of estimating alternative scenarios with the methodology of expert-based inspection, evaluation and iterative adjustments of the projections. On the conceptual side, defining an alternative set of exogenous assumptions that are internally consistent represents a challenge of no easy resolution.
The significant commodity and country details underlying the analysis requires the handling of huge quantities of data. Inevitably, data problems that would remain hidden and go unnoticed in work conducted at the level of large country and commodity aggregates come to the fore all the time. Examples of typical data problems are given below.
Data reliability: When revised numbers become available in the successive rounds of updating and revision of the historical data, it is not uncommon to discover that some of the data were off the mark, sometimes by a very large margin. It may happen therefore that changes projected to occur in the future have already occurred in the past.
Unbalanced world trade: A second data problem relates to the large discrepancies often encountered in the trade statistics, i.e. world imports are not equal to world exports. Small discrepancies are inevitable and can be ignored but large ones pose serious problems since in the projections exporting countries must produce export surpluses equal to the net imports of other countries.
Uncertainty for indicators calculations
The total fertiliser consumption does not reflect the efficiency of fertiliser use per unit of crop or per unit of land. It also does not provide information regarding environmental impact and nutrient discharge. The actual environmental effects will depend on pollution abatement methods, soil and plant types, and meteorological conditions. Time series analysis of fertilizers consumption can however allow monitoring of its effect on the environment and enables preparation of strategies for mitigation of negative impacts of fertilizers on the environment.
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoTobias Dominik Lung
Frequency of updates
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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