December 1996




Fourteenth Session

Rome, 7-11 April 1997, Red Room



1. The FAO Guide to Efficient Plant Nutrient Management is a consequence of the Organization's concern about the importance of crop fertilization for maintaining and enhancing agricultural production. The Guide, a result of an expert consultation, provides guidance for sound plant nutrition practices as a tool for accelerated growth in crop productivity and agricultural incomes and for environmentally-friendly intensification of production systems. It aims at providing clear information to a wide public about concepts and methods. The summary below presents an overview of what the Guide contains.

2. Maintaining and enhancing agricultural production through improved plant nutrition management, correctly integrated with sound water management and improved use of other production factors, is a complex challenge. Agricultural intensification requires increased flows of plant nutrients to crops, supporting higher uptake of those nutrients and higher levels of stocks of plant nutrients in soils, a prerequisite for higher yields. This intensification results in larger amounts of crop residues, manures and organic wastes from the consumption of agricultural products, which are sources of plant nutrients. Excessive applications of nutrients, inefficient management of cropping systems, and inefficient use of residues and wastes, result in losses of plant nutrients and thus economic loss to the farmer. An inadequate and insufficient plant nutrient supply creates an insidious depletion of plant nutrient stocks on the farm, which is also an economic loss for the farmer. Environmental hazards may be created through an oversupply of nutrients compared to the capacity for their uptake by cropping systems, while the depletion of nutrient stocks is a major, but often hidden, form of environmental degradation. Plant nutrition management depends largely on prevailing economic and social conditions. Farmers' decisions depend on their economic situation and their socio-economic environment, on their perception of economic signals and on their acceptance of risks.

3. The fundamental assumption of the Guide is that sound plant nutrition management can contribute to meeting the challenge of food security and the required increased production of agricultural products by using the land and water resource base in a way which safeguards the environment.

4. The Guide addresses all parties engaged in or influencing the production, distribution and use of sources of plant nutrients: local organic products, mineral fertilizers and biological inoculants. It proposes responsibilities, guidelines and a basis for agreement of the parties concerned to share thepromotion and development of sound intensified plant nutrition management guided by accurate policies through coherent plans for action.

5. The Guide proposes the adoption of Integrated Plant Nutrition Systems (IPNS) which enhance soil productivity through a balanced use of the available local and external sources of plant nutrients on the farm; maintain or improve soil fertility; and are environmentally friendly. In the medium term, IPNS help accumulate plant nutrient stocks (in soils and crop residues) as capital for the sustainable continuation of the intensification process.

6. The Guide emphasizes the urgent necessity for participatory identification and development of locally-adapted technology and decision-making mechanisms for sound plant nutrition practices. Circulation of information for, and training of, small-scale farmers are key issues for the promotion of intensified and environmentally friendly farming practices, supporting the raising of farmers' income.

7. The essential components of efficient plant nutrition management, which the Guide aims at communicating, are described below:

(a)    The sources of plant nutrients are described and information is provided on their efficient use for agricultural intensification and their potential impact on the environment.

(b)    Optimization of the management of plant nutrients, as a part of sound agricultural intensification, results from a balanced supply of plant nutrient sources, maintaining or increasing the capital of plant nutrients on the farm and the productivity of the nutrients involved in crop production and generating the maximum income for farmers within the local economic context.

(c)    Advice on plant nutrition management should include assistance in decision-making at plot and farm level, to optimize the use of local resources and the capacity for intensification of farming according to production objectives and the economic environment. Advice should also be provided at the village or small watershed level for the correct management of, or investment in, local sources of nutrients through sound use of vegetation and livestock. In order to optimize the cost-effectiveness of the various channels providing advice to farmers, private and public sectors need mobilizing and to cooperate with each other, so as to best serve the different categories of farmers. Information should be provided to all partners about the potential environmental impact of plant nutrient management. Correct research back-up is essential.

(d)    The possible environmental impact of the overuse, underuse and misuse of plant nutrient sources is discussed.

(e)    National policies should facilitate the development of sound plant nutrition management and the corresponding investment for intensifying production systems by farmers, while conserving the natural resource base.

8. The major aspects of the Guide put forward for consideration are:

* assessment of plant nutrient requirements to meet crop production targets

* choice of sources and methods of supply

* determination of the optimum level of domestic fertilizer production

* price levels and the issue of subsidies on plant nutrient sources

* legislative aspects

* support for extension and research.

9. Policy-making in these areas determines the extent to which farmers have access to plant nutrient sources and are able to increase their production while maintaining soil fertility. A farmer needs purchasing power to obtain external inputs, as well as advice on how to use them in a balanced way. The Guide outlines appropriate policies in the areas of assessment, marketing, transport and storage, pricing, labelling, packaging, and training advice and planning. It emphasizes that the right balance of government and private participation in the production, import and distribution of fertilizers, needs to be found. In addition, it advocates setting up national plant nutrition management units. These would advise, formulate and establish a well-integrated plant nutrition policy, and regulate availability and quality through the production and trade of plant nutrient sources (in particular fertilizers), in accordance with the government's overall plant nutrition strategy.

10. Finally, if the Guide is to achieve its aims wide distribution is needed. Ways of implementing the advice contained in the Guide at national, regional and international levels are suggested, as are follow-up measures, such as the monitoring of soil productivity status, productivity of the supplied nutrients and environmental impact of plant nutrient management. All parties addressed by the Guide are urged to observe and promote its general principles in the knowledge that efficient plant nutrition management at farm and country levels is a key to ensuring sustainable food security and rural development.

11. FAO Members are alerted to this Guide, which is expected to be published in May 1997, and are invited to give it the widest distribution.