Sustainability challenges of phosphorus and food: Solutions from closing the human phosphorus cycle

Daniel L. Childers, Jessica Corman, Mark Edwards, James J. Elser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

424 Scopus citations


The Green Revolution has led to a threefold growth in food production in the last 50 to 75 years, hut increases in crop production have required a concurrent increase in the use of inorganic phosphorus as fertilizer. A sustainable phosphorus supply is not assured, though, and food production depends on mineral phosphorus supplies that are nonrenewable and are being depleted. Phosphorus is effectively a nonsubstitutable necessity for all life. Because mineral phosphorus deposits are not distributed evenly, future phosphorus scarcity may have national security implications. Some projections show economically viable mineral reserves becoming depleted within a few decades. Phosphorus-induced food shortages are therefore a possibility, particularly in developing countries where farmers are more vulnerable to volatile fertilizer prices. Sustainable solutions to such future challenges exist, and involve closing the loop on the human phosphorus cycle. We review the current state of knowledge about human phosphorus use and dependence and present examples of these sustainable solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-124
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011


  • food security
  • human phosphorus cycle
  • phosphorus
  • phosphorus limitation
  • sustainability


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