17 March 2021

UNEP urges a new fertilizers policy for a sustainable agriculture

agricoltura, fertilizzanti, pesticidi, suolo, api,

The UN Environment Programme: “Fertilizers market is growing by 4.1% per year. The excessive and inefficient use of pesticides kills 11,000 people”. FAO has issued specific guidelines for healty and soil-friendly crops

by Matteo Cavallito


Fertilizers and pesticides use is skyrocketing with obvious negative impact on soil and individuals according to a recent report by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with FAO and WHO. “Global demand, production and use of pesticides and fertilizers have expanded steadily during the past decades. Combined global sales continue to grow at about 4.1% per year and are projected to reach $309 billion by 2025” the study says. The global goal of reducing the burden of chemical products along with its health risks has not been met. In a world with growing demand for food and crop additives, a shift towards sustainability is therefore absolutely essential.

Pesticides are responsible of 385 million cases of poisonings

Food security and nutrition quality are still primary goals with pesticides and fertilizers “providing a range of benefits,” UNEP says. But “current and projected production and use, and the lack of effective management, come at the cost of a range of adverse impacts on the environment and health throughout their life cycles.” According to the organization, in particular, pesticides are responsible of about 385 million cases of non-fatal unintentional pesticide poisonings with approximately 11,000 deaths every year. “Adverse impacts of pesticides have been observed on bees and natural enemies of pests, bird populations, aquatic organisms, and biodiversity loss”.

Most problems associated with fertilizers are tied to excessive and inefficient use. “This leads to nutrient losses to the environment and other adverse impacts, such as drinking water contamination and eutrophication of freshwater systems and coastal zones. Some fertilizers also impact human lives as a result of unsafe storage practices.”

A global shift towards sustainable management

According to UNEP, concrete actions are needed to minimize the negative impact of pesticides and fertilizers. These include promoting healthy consumption, strengthening sustainable management standards along the farm supply chain. But also the enforcement of international controls and legislation and the education of farmers. As well as guaranteeing access to appropriate products at affordable prices. Further guidelines have been provided by the FAO which, two years ago, published its International Code of Conduct for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilizers. The proper use of fertilizers, the organization says, is a requirement for the achievement of some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Fertile but still sustainable soils

Created following the third UN Environment Assembly Declaration on Soil Pollution and introduced with the aim of implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management, the Fertilizer Code addresses issues such as nutrient recycling, the use of safe products and the protection of soil health by providing guidance and illustrating best practices for stakeholders. FAO, in particular, strongly emphasizes the management of nutrients based on the so-called 4R Nutrient Stewardship: right source of nutrients at the right time, in the right place and in the right quantity according to soil and crop features. The ultimate goal is to strengthen global food production and security without harming soil fertility and ecosystems.