The pivotal role of phosphorus in a resilient water-energy-food security nexus

Jarvie, Helen P.; Sharpley, Andrew N.; Flaten, Don; Kleinman, Peter J.A.; Jenkins, Alan; Simmons, Tarra. 2015 The pivotal role of phosphorus in a resilient water-energy-food security nexus. Journal of Environmental Quality, 44 (4). 1049-1062.

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We make the case that phosphorus (P) is inextricably linked to an increasingly fragile, interconnected and interdependent nexus of water, energy and food security and should be managed accordingly. Although there are many other drivers that influence water, energy and food security, P plays a unique and under-recognised role within the nexus. The P paradox derives from fundamental challenges in meeting water, energy and food security for a growing global population. We face simultaneous and biofuel production and addressing over-abundance of P entering aquatic systems which impairs water quality and aquatic ecosystems and threatens water security. Historical success in redistributing rock phosphate as fertilizer to enable modern feed and food production systems is a grand societal achievement in overcoming inequality. However, using the United States as the main example, we demonstrate how successes in redistribution of P and re-organization of farming systems have broken local P cycles and have inadvertently created instability that threatens resilience within the nexus. Furthermore, recent expansion of the biofuels sector is placing further pressure on P distribution and availability. Despite these challenges, opportunities exist to intensify and expand food and biofuel production through recycling and better management of land and water resources. Ultimately, a strategic approach to sustainable P management can help address the P paradox, minimize tradeoffs and catalyse synergies to improve resilience among components of the water, energy and food security nexus.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Directors, SCs
Rees (from October 2014)
ISSN: 0047-2425
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link
Additional Keywords: BMP, beneficial management practice
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 09 Jun 2015 10:57 +0 (UTC)

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