Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Brazilian Technology Spells Hope In Food Crisis

Taking a closer look at the Brazilian model shows why the IAASTD authors overwhelmingly rejected the big business model as a way to sustainably feed the world.

Brazil's Mato Grosso region is the world's most active agricultural frontier. Satellite photos show the relentless push of soybean monocultures and cattle grazing into the Amazon rainforest. Forest ecologist Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center, says that soy agriculture in the Mato Grosso has "greased the skids" for deforestation of the Amazon.

The success of soy farming in Mato Grosso is based on two advantages: the region's abundant rainfall and the discovery that heavy applications of fertilizer, especially lime and phosphorus, could impart impressive fertility to the tropical soils. Both of these assets are likely to be short-lived.

First and foremost is the rain. Nepstad's research focus is drought in the Amazon. He has found that after only two years of drought, trees begin to die and the forest fires start. Once a regular fire regime takes hold, a tipping point is reached that rapidly converts rainforest to dry scrub. The consequence is not just losing the rainforest, but losing the rain.

Through a process called transpiration, trees in the Amazon seed the clouds that water the fields and pastures of South America and the Caribbean. Researchers are finding that clouds and air currents that originate in the Amazon can drive weather patterns as far away as the North Atlantic. As the forest evaporates, so does the rainfall.

The second factor, a reliance on heavy applications of fertilizer, is also bound to be a temporary phenomenon. Little noted in the popular press, fertilizer prices have skyrocketed in recent months.

Reuters reported on April 16 that Chinese fertilizer importers have "agreed to pay more than triple what they did a year ago to reserve tight supplies of potash, sending the shares of global fertilizer makers to record levels."

Phosphorus, like potash, is mostly produced by mining mineral deposits and there is a limit to global reserves - a limit that we are rapidly approaching. Patrick Dery and Bart Anderson looked at phosphorus production data in a report for Energy Bulletin titled "Peak Phosphorus." They concluded that the world has passed the peak of phosphorus production and is already in decline.

"In some ways," say Dery and Anderson, "the problem of peak phosphorus is more difficult than peak oil. Energy sources other than oil are available..." But, they point out, "Unlike fossil fuels, phosphorus can be recycled. However if we waste phosphorus, we cannot replace it [with] any other source."

The main way to recycle phosphorus is to reclaim it from sewage and animal waste. The need to do this will bring us full circle from modern high-tech agriculture back to traditional practices that used animal manure and human "night soil."

Researchers in Sweden and Australia are already working on a new toilet design that would siphon off human urine to use as a source of phosphate. It would be stored in tanks for supply to farmers.

What will happen to the farms of Mato Grosso when the price of phosphorus doubles, quadruples, and then doubles again? For that matter, what will happen to the fields of Iowa?

- Brazzil.com

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Thanks Brothah Sha King Allah for the intel

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