Capacity Development Portal
Good Practices

Crop production systems management

  1. Conservation Agriculture
  2. Plant Nutrients/Fertilizer

Plant nutrients are key in the transformation of agriculture

What problem did it address, where?

Hunger and malnutrition are global problems. Use of mineral fertilizers has been instrumental in improving agricultural production throughout the world and in meeting the food needs of a rapidly expanding population. At least one-third of crop yield increases have been attributed to the application of mineral fertilizers. Besides its contribution towards mitigation of hunger, the resulting increase in crop yields through mineral fertilizer use has protected from the plough millions of hectares of marginal lands, forests, native ranges, and wildlife reserves all over the globe. Improved plant nutrition as a result of mineral fertilization has provided for better crop quality in terms of mineral and protein contents, thereby saving people from malnutrition and hunger.  


With per capita arable land becoming ever scarcer, sustainable intensification is the prime option for meeting future food needs and protecting natural resources. Cropping intensification leads to enhanced flows of plant nutrients to crops and depletes the soil of its nutrients. Nutrient depletion is a major and often hidden form of land degradation, with long term consequences of yield loss and unsustainable agricultural production. Mineral fertilizer application contributes about 48 per cent of all plant nutrients that global crop production extracts. This contribution will increase in future as production intensification progresses. Inadequate plant nutrition causes soil productivity decline and future income losses. Achieving potential productivity gains that are environmentally sound, however, depends to a considerable extent on investments, research and technology transfer as well as policy support and incentives for the adoption of better management practices.

Where next?

The mid-term goal, formulated during the World Food Summit (WFS), of halving the number of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 and the long-term goal of feeding a growing world population will require more intensive agricultural crop production. That requirement constitutes a direct link between the WFS goal and mineral fertilizer use articulated in Millennium Development Goal 1. Large increases in agricultural production foreseen for the next three decades, with yield growth as the primary contributor to such increases, can hardly be achieved without significant increases in fertilizer applications in most countries.

Unfertilized annual cropping in the humid tropics, with its adverse impact on soil organic matter, presents one of the most critical production systems. Appropriate use of inputs in conjunction with improved farming practices and technology boosts productivity and income. The scope for raising crop productivity through mineral fertilizer use is substantial.

A critical policy issue for efficient mineral fertilizer use is to make fertilizer application profitable for farmers who currently are using too little fertilizer to attain required production increases, and to counteract land degradation from soil nutrient mining. The world needs more mineral fertilizers and increased nutrient use efficiency, especially in intensive crop production systems. A great deal of the existing knowledge of ‘what’ and ‘how’ needs to be transferred to farmers.

Contact our Team