Phosphorus is essential for current methods of agricultural production -- but limited world supplies may require profound changes in farming.
"Financier-turned-environmentalist Jeremy Grantham has a reputation for extremely accurate predictions. As the chief investment strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, one of the world’s largest fund management companies, he deftly steered investors away from financial ruin in the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 and the Internet bubble almost decade earlier.
Now Grantham sees a new crisis on the horizon, this one caused by a shortage of a vital commodity people don’t think much about: phosphorus. 'We have to change our agriculture to use dramatically less phosphorus,' Grantham told an audience of about 75 at Columbia University’s Casa Italiana on September 30. “You can’t make it. We mine [it], so we’re depleting [it].”
Vital for life, phosphorus is part of the structure of DNA and absorbing and using vitamins. Our bodies, Grantham says, are 0.5 percent phosphorus, mostly concentrated in our bones and teeth. The element is crucial around the world because it’s used in fertilizers that add essential nutrients to depleted soil, he explained.
It’s phosphorus’ limited distribution, consolidated in a few dried-up oceans, that is particularly concerning to Grantham. He said 77 percent of the world’s entire phosphorus reserve is in Morocco, which has a 'semi-reasonable king who owns all the phosphorus.' Given the instability in the Middle East, though, Grantham believes that Morocco is 'quite likely' to become destabilized, which could spell trouble for agriculture worldwide."