Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 104, Issue 3, pp 265–279 | Cite as

The governance gap surrounding phosphorus

  • Arno RosemarinEmail author
  • Nelson Ekane


There are gaps in the governance of phosphorus (P) across the value chain components (from “mine to fork”), within the monitoring and regulation of these components, and surrounding the role of stakeholders in the process. As a result the intrinsic objectives of a governance system for P are not well formulated and yet to be implemented. Phosphorus is a mineral and is produced and marketed much like other minerals. But since P is also an essential element in our food systems, critical for all forms of life and very dispersed in different products, it requires special attention concerning data collaboration especially regarding rock phosphate (RP) commercial reserves and potential resources. Policy leadership in this area is lacking and the world has no independent source of data or a governance system set up to provide independent monitoring of the knowledge and resource base. The science of P governance benefits from a review of how other minerals have been governed but also by taking a multi-level governance perspective to unpack the complexities. This study reviews key interacting factors affecting the need for governance including common perceptions surrounding P and fertilizers among producers and consumers, the highly skewed distribution of the global resource, the absence of the UN system in monitoring availability and consumption of RP resulting in uncertainty about the size of the commercial reserves, and the inefficiencies in various steps in the phosphate value chain from “mine to fork”. The paper provides an overview of governance opportunities including the realms of mining, agriculture and waste management, the respective parameters worth monitoring and regulating, the stakeholders involved and the associated objectives of the resulting improved governance. It provides some suggestions for policy priorities and a staged process of steps to achieve progress.


Phosphorus Governance Geopolitics Reserves 


  1. Bache I, Flinders MV (eds) (2004) Multi-level governance. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnett LJ, Morse M (1963) The economics of natural resource availability. Johns Hopkins University Press for Resources for the Future, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  3. Beckerman W (1974) In defense of economic growth. Jonathan Cape, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown AD (2003) Feed or feedback. Agriculture, population dynamics and the state of the planet. International Books, UtrechtGoogle Scholar
  5. Butusov M, Jernelöv A (2013) Phosphorus—an element that could have been called Lucifer. Springer, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell J (2004) Institutional change and globalization. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  7. Cole HSD, Freeman C, Jahoda M, Pavittet KLR (1973) Models of doom. Universe Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Cordell D (2010) The story of phosphorus: sustainability implications of global phosphorus scarcity for food security. Ph.D. thesis, University of Technology Sydney and Linköping University, 220 pGoogle Scholar
  9. Cordell D, Drangert JO, White S (2009) The story of phosphorus: global food security and food for thought. Glob Environ Chang 19:292–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Ridder M, de Jong S, Polchar J, Lingemann S (2012) Risks and opportunities in the global phosphate rock market. Robust strategies in times of uncertainty. Center for Strategic Studies, HagueGoogle Scholar
  11. EC (2014) Report on critical raw materials for the EU. Report of the ad hoc working group on defining critical raw materials, 41 p. (Accessed 14 Mar 2015)
  12. Edixhoven JD, Gupta J, Savenije HHG (2014) Recent revisions of phosphate rock reserves and resources: a critique. Earth Syst Dyn 5:491–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elser JJ, Elser TJ, Carpenter SR, Brock WA (2014) Regime shift in fertilizer commodities indicates more turbulence ahead for food security. PLoS One 9(5):1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. FAO (2009) Declaration of the world summit on food security. FAO, Rome, 7 p. (Accessed 13 Mar 2015)
  15. FAO (2015) Current world fertilizer trends and outlook to 2018. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  16. Foxon TJ (2008) Technological lock-in and the role of innovation. In: Atkinson G, Dietz S, Neumayer E (eds) Handbook of sustainable development. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp 140–152Google Scholar
  17. Gibson C, Ostrom E, Ahn T (2000) The concept of scale and the human dimensions of global changes: a survey. Ecol Econ 32:217–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heckenmüller M, Narita D, Klepper G (2014) Global availability of phosphorus and its implications for global food supply: an economic overview. Kiel Working paper no. 1897, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Kiel, 26 pGoogle Scholar
  19. Hooghe L, Marks G (2001) Types of multi-level governance. Eur Integr Online Pap (EIoP) 5(11):1–24.
  20. Hooghe L, Marks G (2003) Unraveling the central state, but how? Types of multi-level governance. Am Polit Sci Rev 97(2):233–243Google Scholar
  21. Hotelling H (1931) The economics of exhaustible resources. J Polit Econ 39:137–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. IFDC (2010) World phosphate reserves and resources. Technical bulletin T-75, 48 pGoogle Scholar
  23. ISRIC (2012) Global distribution of soil phosphorus retention potential. ISRIC, WageningenGoogle Scholar
  24. Jordan-Meille L, Rubæk GH, Ehlert PAI, Genot V, Hofman G, Goulding K, Recknagel J, Provolo G, Barraclough P (2012) An overview of fertilizer-P recommendations in Europe: soil testing, calibration and fertilizer recommendations. Soil Use Manag 28(4):419–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Keohane R, Ostrom E (eds) (1995) Local commons an global interdependence. Heterogeneity and cooperation in two domains. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Marks G (1993) Structural policy and multi-level governance in the EC: In: Cafruny A, Rosenthal G (eds) The state of the European Community, vol 2: the Maastricht debates and beyond. Lynne Riener, Boulder, pp 402–403Google Scholar
  27. Marks G, Hooghe L (2000) Optimality and authority: a critique of neo-classical theory. J Common Mark Stud 38:795–816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meadows DH, Meadows DL, Randers J, Behrens WW III (1972) The limits to growth. Signet, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. North D (1990) Institutions, institutional change and economic performance. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ostrom E (1990) Governing the commons. The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ott C, Rechberger H (2012) The European phosphorus balance. Resour Conserv Recycl 60:159–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pierson P (2000) Increasing returns, path dependence, and the study of politics. Am Polit Sci Rev 94(2):251–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pierson P (2004) Politics in time. History, institutions, and social analysis. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Radetzki M (1992) The decline and rise of the multinational corporation in the metal mineral industry. Resour Policy 18(1):2–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rosemarin A (2004) In a fix: the precarious geopolitics of phosphorus. Down to earth. Center for Science and Environment, Delhi, pp 27–31Google Scholar
  36. Rosemarin A, de Bruijne G, Caldwell I (2009) Peak phosphorus: the next inconvenient truth. Broker 15:6–9Google Scholar
  37. Schipper W (2014) Phosphorus: too big to fail. Eur J Inorg Chem 2014:1567–1571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schröder JJ, Cordell D, Smit AL, Rosemarin A (2010) Sustainable use of phosphorus. Plant research international report no. 357. Wageningen University and Stockholm Environment Institute, Wageningen, 124 pGoogle Scholar
  39. Sharpley AN, Bergström L, Aronsson H, Bechmann M, Bolster CH, Börling K, Djodjic F, Jarvie HP, Schoumans OF, Stamm C, Tonderski KS, Ulén B, Uusitalo R, Withers PJA (2015) Future agriculture with minimized phosphorus losses to waters: research needs and direction. Ambio 44(Suppl. 2):163–179. doi: 10.1007/s13280-014-0612-x CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Shields DJ, Šolar SV (2006) The nature and evolution of mineral supply choices. In: Proceedings of the 15th international symposium on mine planning and equipment selection, Torino, 20–22 September, pp 902–907Google Scholar
  41. Simons A, Solomon D, Chibssa W, Blalock G, Lehmann J (2014) Filling the phosphorus fertilizer gap in developing countries. Nat Geosci. doi: 10.1038/ngeo2049 Google Scholar
  42. Solar SV, Shields DJ, Miller MD (2009) Mineral policy in the era of sustainable development: historical context and future content. RMZ 56:304–321Google Scholar
  43. Steffen W, Richardson K, Rockström J, Cornell SE, Fetzer I, Bennett EM, Biggs R, Carpenter SR, de Vries W, de Wit CA, Folke C, Gerten D, Heinke J, Mace GM, Persson LM, Ramanathan V, Reyers B, Sörlin S (2015) Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.1259855 Google Scholar
  44. UN (2013) World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. (Accessed 27 Aug 2015)
  45. UNEP (2010) Building the foundations for sustainable nutrient management. GPNM. UNEP, Nairobi, 30 pGoogle Scholar
  46. UNEP (2011) Phosphorus and food production. Year book. UNEP, Nairobi, pp 34–45Google Scholar
  47. UNEP (2012) Responsible resource management for a sustainable world: findings from the international resource panel. UNEP, Paris, 36 pGoogle Scholar
  48. Vaccari DA (2011) Phosphorus cycle issue—introduction. Chemosphere 84(6):735–736CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Van Kauwenbergh S, Stewart M, Mikkelsen R (2013) World reserves of phosphate rock, a dynamic and unfolding story. Better Crops 97(3):19–20Google Scholar
  50. Wellmer F, Becker-Platen J (2013) Global nonfuel mineral resources and sustainability. In: Proceedings of the workshop on deposit modeling, mineral resource assessment, and sustainable development. USGS, 16 p.
  51. Withers PJA, van Dijk KC, Neset T-SS, Nesme T, Oenema O, Rubæk GH, Schoumans OF, Smit B, Pellerin S (2015a) Stewardship to tackle global phosphorus inefficiency: the case of Europe. Ambio 44(Suppl. 2):S193–S206. doi: 10.1007/s13280-014-0614-8 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Withers PJA, Schipper WJ, Elser JJ, Hilton J, van Dijk KC, Ohtake H (2015b) Greening the global phosphorus cycle: how green chemistry can help achieve planetary P sustainability. Green Chem 17:2087–2099CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wyant KA, Corman JR, Elser JJ (eds) (2013) Phosphorus, food, and our future. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stockholm Environment InstituteStockholmSweden

Personalised recommendations