Indicator Assessment

Total fertiliser consumption - outlook from FAO

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-74-en
  Also known as: Outlook 010
Published 08 Jun 2007 Last modified 11 May 2021
10 min read
This page was archived on 12 Nov 2013 with reason: Content not regularly updated

Assessment created 2007

The expected growth in populations and economies in all regions** implies increasing demand for crops and other agricultural products worldwide. If the current trends continue and if the efficiency of fertiliser use is improved*, this increasing demand will lead to a 1 % increase per year in global fertiliser use, from 138 million tonne in 1999 to 188 million in 2030 (37 % increase in total).

However, fertiliser use in many developing countries is very inefficient.  Best practices for fertiliser handling could significantly reduce the environmental pressures associated with nutrient losses. Even modest increases in fertiliser application could cause problems when yield growth stagnates, leading to inefficient use of nutrients and severe pollution.

*Projections are based on the Food and Agriculture Organisation vision concerning food, nutrient and agriculture. The vision takes into account current economic, social and industry trends as well as improved efficiency of fertiliser use.

** The European fertiliser manufacturers association make regular forecasts of fertiliser use in the European Union. These forecasts show a decline of all nutrients for 2012 compared with the base year average (1999-2001) (nitrogen 7 %, phosphorus 13 % and potassium 12 %). It is  based on criteria laid down in the current Common Agricultural Policy, but  have not taken into account any of the new measures  in the European Commission's Mid Term Review which could result in an even bigger decline.

Source: Forecast of food, farming and fertilizer use in the European Union, 2002 -2012 , EFMA2012



This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Fertiliser consumption in 1997/1999 and projections for 2030

Note: International comparison

Data source:

World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030. An FAO Perspective. Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2003

Change in fertiliser consumption from 1997/1999 to 2030

Note: International comparison

Data source:

World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030. An FAO Perspective. Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2003.

Projections of fertiliser consumption

Note: International comparison

Data source:

World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030. An FAO Perspective. Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2003.


  • Current transition economies (EECCA, SEE and some EU-10 countries) are projected to account for only 5 % of world fertiliser use by 2030. However, fertiliser use in these countries is expected to increase by 32 % from 1999 to 2030, more rapidly than in industrialised countries, following the stabilisation of the economic situation during recent years and the projected economic growth in these regions.
  • North America, Western Europe and other industrialised countries are projected to account for more than 30 % of all fertiliser use in 2030. The increase in these countries** (about 28 % from 1990 to 2030), especially in Western Europe, is expected to lag significantly behind that in other regions of the world. The EU and North America have used a number of research and regulatory measures to limit pollution from fertilisers, but this has not been enough to prevent serious build-up of nitrate in waters. Increasing efficiency of fertiliser use, rising awareness of its negative environmental impacts, and the spread of organic agriculture are key factors for reducing the projected growth in fertiliser consumption.
  • In 2030, China is still likely to be the biggest single consumer of fertilisers - up to 28 % of total world use. Fertiliser consumption there will increase much more rapidly than in other developing countries (by  48 % from 1999 to 2030).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

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

Context description

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 EECCA Environmental Strategy 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.


Pan-European level

There is no specific target for this indicator

EU level

  • 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))

EECCA level

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



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".

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

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.

Data uncertainty

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

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • Outlook 010
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
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