How organic fertilizers can become a safe and sustainable solution in soil fertilization.
In light of the devastating Ammonium Nitrate explosion in Beirut this week, we at HVA believe is high time for us all to consider phasing out artificial fertilizers altogether. This was not an isolated incident as there have been half a dozen such blasts in recent memory, such as the explosion in Tianjin in 2015, which claimed 200 lives.
While artificial fertilizers were heralded as the greatest innovation of the 20th century, we feel that it has outlived its usefulness. Discovering how to get Nitrogen into crops with petrochemicals resulted in agricultural production skyrocketing and created food security for billions of people, but there are better ways to increase Nitrogen and Phosphates in soils. There is no contention on the part of experts that artificial fertilizers is causing extensive harm to eco-systems, not to mention the mass destruction when they are stored improperly.
Artificial fertilizers are especially sought after by developing countries that want to see increases in their crop yields as their populations are still growing at a fast rate. In the case of the 2,700 tons of Ammonium Nitrate that were stored improperly in the Port of Beirut, it was destined for one of the most impoverished countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We of course cannot deprive such nations of important inputs, but we can certainly ramp up efforts to help provide less toxic (and explosive) agricultural inputs.
While artificial fertilizers do work, they can hardly be called sustainable. They act as a band-aid solution, feeding the plants, which is of course good, but they also reduce microbial diversity and carbon levels in the soil, collapsing its structure. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, feed the soil, which in turn feeds the crops.
Seeing as organically derived fertilizer also provides micro-nutrients that are beneficial to plant health and also enhance the quality of soils, these are far more sustainable than synthetic fertilizers which decrease soil fertility and degrade local ecosystems. There are a wide variety of organic fertilizers available, and ones derived from algae are showing a lot of promise. These are rich in both macro- and micro-nutrients and help improve growth and yield of crops while being completely safe to handle and store.
Algal-based fertilizers are also cost-effective and increase aeration, humus formation and the moisture-retaining capacity of soils, which in turn increases the rate of seed germination and nutrient uptake in crops.
In this day and age where sustainability is lauded and there is a need to source food for billions more people on the planet, it makes little sense to be shipping and storing highly explosive artificial fertilizer when safer, more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives exist. The damage caused by the blast in Beirut is estimated to be $13-15 billion, which would have been enough to produce organic fertilizer to cover 130-150 million hectares of agricultural land. So the question is not if the world can afford to transition to organic fertilizer, but if we can afford not to.
Due to the preponderance of artificial fertilizer in agriculture, runoff water from farmlands has for decades been causing eutrophication of rivers, streams and lakes all over the world. It is high time that serious action be taken to phase out artificial fertilizers and we at HVA are committed to doing what we can* to decrease reliance on fossil fuel-based inputs in favor of sustainable organic alternatives.
*HVA has the knowledge and the experience to setup and manage organic fertilizer plants for the production of crop-fertilizers from various inputs, e.g. livestock solid waste, eukaryotic organisms etc. The investment cost starts at EUR 15M and the ROI can be in excess of 20%.