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Mineral and Chemical Fertilizers: 1961-2018

 

2020 Update Highlights

  • FAOSTAT provides statistics at country, regional and global level on the production, trade and agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers.
  • World levels of agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers have risen significantly between the 1960s and 2010s, from about 20 to over 100 million tonnes for N, from about 15 to over 40 million for P2O5, and from about 10 to over 30 million for K2O.
  • There are, nevertheless, differences by region, in the total values and in their evolution. The expansion of agricultural use has been particularly strong in Asia. This region represented less than 20% of the world total in 1961-1964 and it represents over 50% in 2015-2018, for all three nutrients. In the last decade, however, the use of N and P2O5 seems to have stabilized or even declined.
  • Use of inorganic fertilizers has also expanded in the Americas, maintaining the second highest global share for all three nutrients. In Europe, in contrast, use levels strongly declined around 1990-1994 and they have been quite flat overall since then.
  • In Africa, total values of inorganic fertilizers use are lower than in Asia, Americas or Europe but they have expanded over time, and Africa’s global shares have even risen. They reached over 3.5% for N and P2O5 and over 2% for K2O in 2015-2018.
  • Oceania in 1961-1964 represented 7.5% of the world total in terms of P2O5. This share has declined over time, although the absolute levels did not vary much.
  • Global trends in absolute values are dominated by a few countries with high shares of the total. For all three nutrients and for both production and agricultural use, just about ten countries in each case represent 70% of the world total levels.

BACKGROUND

FAOSTAT provides statistics at country, regional and global level on the production, trade and agricultural use of inorganic (mineral or chemical) fertilizers, by nutrient and by product. The nutrients covered are the three primary nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are used in large quantities by plants. Oxygen, carbon and hydrogen are essential elements that plants also use in large quantities, but plants obtain those directly from the air and water. Other nutrient categories are the secondary nutrients, calcium, magnesium and sulphur, which are required in smaller but still significant quantities, and micronutrients, other elements that are still essential but required in very small quantities (FAO, 1984).


The data on inorganic fertilizers are organised in FAOSTAT in four domains or datasets:

·         ‘Fertilizers by Nutrient’ (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RFN) provides data on the production, import, export and agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers expressed by the total content in tonnes of the primary nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (expressed in equivalent quantity of the oxide form P2O5) and potassium (also expressed in oxide form, as K2O). This domain currently covers the time period 1961-2018.

·         ‘Fertilizers by Product’ (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RFB) and ‘Fertilizers Archive’ (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RA) provide information on the production, import, export and agricultural use of different types of inorganic fertilizer products. Some of these are straight fertilizers, which means that they have a declarable content of only one of the three primary nutrients (e.g. N: urea, ammonium sulphate, ammonium nitrate; P: superphosphates; K: potassium chloride). Other fertilizers are compound fertilizers, which means that they have a declarable content of more than one of the three primary plant nutrients (e.g. NP: diammonium phosphate, NK:  potassium nitrate; all three nutrients: NPK fertilizers). The domain ‘Fertilizers Archive’ covers the period 1961-2001 and contains data expressed in nutrients but disaggregated by product. The more recent domain ‘Fertilizers by Product’ covers the period 2002-2018 and contains data expressed in tonnes of product. The content in nutrients of those products can be estimated using default conversion factors (concentrations), e.g. urea:  46% N. A list of conversion factors is provided in the ‘related documents’ section of the ‘Fertilizers by Nutrient’ domain (FAO, 2020a).  

·         ‘Fertilizers indicators’: use per area of cropland (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/EF) provides the ratio between the agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers in totals by nutrient (for N, P2O5 and K2O) and the area of cropland (i.e. the sum of arable land and permanent crops).

FAOSTAT also provides estimates of agricultural use of some organic fertilizers, which is the other main category of fertilizers and comprises the residues of plants and animals and human wastes. In particular, estimates of nitrogen inputs to agricultural soils from livestock manure are provided in the FAOSTAT domain ‘Livestock Manure’ (FAO, 2020b; FAO, forthcoming). These estimates are compiled using FAOSTAT statistics of animal stocks and applying the Guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This analytical brief focuses however on the data on inorganic fertilizers, and therefore on the four related FAOSTAT domains mentioned above. It provides a summary of the global levels of inorganic fertilizer use in agriculture from 1961 to 2018 and its ratio by area of cropland. It also analyses use levels by region. At country level, it shows the top producers and top consumers of inorganic fertilizers and their high share of the world total, and briefly looks at the internal heterogeneity of regions in the use of fertilizers among their countries, at both the total level and per area of cropland.

Data sources

The main data source for production and agricultural use for these domains is the FAO Fertilizers questionnaire (FAO, 2018a), complemented with national publications when available. Trade data (import and export) for the period 1961-2001 were also obtained via questionnaire, but from 2002 onwards they are obtained from UN Comtrade (DESA/UNSD, 2020).

Imputations to fill gaps due to missing or non-usable data are based mainly on aggregations of data by products converted to nutrients, on balances based on the equation “production + imports = exports + agricultural use + other uses”, or on additional data (from associations, research publications, etc.). References to additional information about the methodological approach and its limitations are provided in the ‘explanatory notes’ section at the end of this report.

In the process of quality control and imputation, data are also discussed with industry experts. This is part of an ongoing collaboration with the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), which provides fertilizer statistics through IFASTAT (https://www.ifastat.org) within the scope allowed by its confidentiality obligations.

 

GLOBAL

The global path of fertilizer use in agriculture shows a strong increment from 1960s to 2010s. World levels of agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers were about 20 million tonnes of N in 1960s, rising to over 100 million tonnes in 2010s. For P2O5, the data show an increment from about 15 million tonnes in 1960s to over 40 million tonnesin 2010s, and for K2O from about 10 to over 30 million tonnes. There has been some expansion in the area of cropland as well, but much more limited (about 15%) (FAO, 2020c). As a result, the ratio between inorganic fertilizer use and area of cropland has also markedly increased from 1960s to 2010s (Fig. 1). The data on  fertilizer use by area of cropland are available in FAOSTAT in the ‘Fertilizers Indicators’ domain (FAO, 2020d) and the data on total agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers (as well as on production and trade) in the ‘Fertilizers by Nutrient’ domain (FAO, 2020a). Data are available at global, regional and country level, and these data show significant differences between regions in both the levels of fertilizer use and their evolution over time.

Figure 1. World total agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers and use per area of cropland by nutrient (N, P2O5, K2O)

REGIONAL

The expansion of the agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers during the last six decades has been particularly strong in Asia. Nitrogen consumption in this region represented less than 20% of the world total in 1961-1964, and it has risen to almost 60% in 2015-2018. For phosphorus, the share of the region has risen from close to 10% in 1961-1964 to over 55% of world total in 2015-2018, and for potassium from less than 10% to over 50%. In the last decade, however, the use of nitrogen and phosphorus seems to have stabilised or even declined in this region. This is driven mainly by the data for China, which during the last decade represented about 50% of the values for the region, for the two nutrients.

Data for Europe, in contrast, show a strong reduction in agricultural use levels around 1990-1994, the time of the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The use of inorganic fertilizers in Europe has remained quite flat overall since then, at about 14 million tonnes for N and about 4 million tonnes each for P2O5 and K2O. These levels represent about 14%, 9% and 11% of the world total in 2015-2018 for N, P2O5 and K2O respectively.

The Americas show an increment in agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers during 1961-2018, and the region has remained the one with the second highest levels of consumption of inorganic fertilizers in the world (with Europe initially in the first position and currently Asia). Growth in Americas, however, has been less intense than in Asia. In 2015-2018 agricultural use levels in Americas were about 35% of those in Asia for nitrogen, about 50% for phosphorus and about 65% for potassium.

Africa represents a much lower share of the agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers in the world compared to Asia, Americas and Europe. In 1961-1964 it represented about 3% of the world total use for nitrogen, close to 2.5% for phosphorus and over 1% for potassium. However, fertilizer use has been raising in this region over time, and Africa has increased its share in the three nutrients, reaching over 3.5% for nitrogen and phosphorus and over 2% for potassium in 2015-2018.

Oceania in 1961-1964 represented less than 0.5% of the global use of inorganic fertilizers in terms of nitrogen and less than 1.5% in terms of potassium. For phosphorus, in contrast, data show a much higher share at the time, about 7.5% of the world total. The levels of use of phosphorus have remained quite stable over time, which in terms of global share implies a decline, to below 3% of global agricultural use in 2015-2018. The share for nitrogen has risen instead, to over 1.5 % of the world total in 2015-2018. For potassium there has been been some increment in use levels in Oceania but its global share has still declined slightly, although remaining over 1% in 2015-2018.

Figure 2. Agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers by region (tonnes of N, P2O5 and K2O)

COUNTRY

The global trends observed in figure 1 are dominated by a few countries that represent a high share of the total. This happens not only in agricultural use but also in production. Figure 3 shows that a small number of countries, about 10, represent 70% of the world total levels, for both production and agricultural use and for the three nutrients.

 

At present, China, USA, India and Russian Federation are the largest producers of inorganic fertilizers in terms of nitrogen and phosphorus, and Canada, Russian Federation, Belarus and China the largest producers in terms of potassium.

Regarding agricultural use, China, India, USA and Brazil are the largest consumers of inorganic fertilizers for all three nutrients, representing more than 50% of the world total.

The difference between production and use in the distribution by countries provides an indication of the magnitude of trade. In figure 3, these differences are largest for potassium, and indeed potassium is the nutrient with the largest share of trade over total agricultural use. These data by country on production, agricultural use and trade are available in the ‘Fertilizers by Nutrient’ domain in FAOSTAT (FAO, 2020a).

The amount of fertilizers used, however, may also be analysed with respect to the area in each country or region. This information is provided in the FAOSTAT domain ‘Fertilizers indicators’ as ‘use per area of cropland’ (FAO, 2020d). This domain provides the ratio between the use of inorganic fertilizers, by nutrient, and the sum of the area of arable land (i.e. temporary crops, temporary meadows and pastures, and land with temporary fallow) and permanent crops. The distribution of these values (tonnes/ha) compared to the total values for agricultural use (tonnes) are presented in figure 4. The color of each data point indicates the region, to highlight the heterogeneity of the countries within regions in these two dimensions.

Data for Africa in Figure 4 show in general lower levels of use per hectare (while the totals in tonnes are more spread). Oceania has fewer data points but most of them also show lower values in use per hectare. Asia, Americas and Europe, in contrast, show a larger variety of values across both dimensions. The four main consumers (China, India, USA and Brazil) have been labelled for reference, so their high position in total use can be compared with their different levels in terms of use per hectare.

Figure 3. Countries that jointly represent about 70% of the world total, for production and agricultural use and by nutrient, and variation from 1970-1979 to 2010-2018.

 

Figure 4. Distribution of countries within regions in their fertilizer use per hectare of cropland, compared to the total use (average in 2010-2018 for N, P2O5 and K2O)

 

 

EXPLORATORY NOTES

Additional documentation for the data provided in this analytical brief, regarding methodology and specific country notes, are provided in the ‘related documents’ section of the corresponding FAOSTAT domains (FAO 2020a, 2020d and 2020e).

Each FAOSTAT domain has also a section on ‘definitions and standards’, which provides an explanation of the different terms and categories used. This includes a description of the flags, which are short codes provided next to each value to indicate the type of data source. Flags allow distinguising, for instance, official data provided from countries via questionnaire or reported in official publications from data calculated by balance or imputed by other methods.

These domains are updated annually. The latest update of the ‘Fertilizers by Nutrient’ domain included a downward revision of production data for some countries in terms of phosphorus, as a result of improved harmonisation in the methodological approach along the time series. Information about this revision is also available in the ‘related documents’ section of the domain in FAOSTAT.

Each update is aimed at continuously improving the data domains and their usefulness for users. Comments, doubts or suggestions may be provided by writing to [email protected] or by filling out the brief questionnaire available throught the “help us improve this site” button at the bottom right-hand side of the FAOSTAT website (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en).

 

REFERENCES

>         DESA/UNSD (2020) United Nations Comtrade database. Available at: https://comtrade.un.org/. (See disclaimer about the coverage and limitations of UN Comtrade data at: http://comtrade.un.org/db/help/uReadMeFirst.aspx).

>         FAO (1984) Fertilizer and plant nutrition guide. FAO Fertilizer and plant nutrition bulleting 9. Land and Water Development Division. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-aq355e.pdf.

>         FAO (2018a) Fertilizers questionnaire. FAO Statistics Division. Available at: http://www.fao.org/economic/ess/ess-home/questionnaires/en/.

>         FAO (2018b) Faostat User Consultation 2018. Office of Chief Statistician. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca7239en/ca7239en.pdf.

>         FAO (2020a) Fertilizers by Nutrient. FAOSTAT (license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RFN.

>         FAO (2020b) Livestock Manure. FAOSTAT (license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/EMN.

>         FAO (2020c) Land Use. FAOSTAT (license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RL.

>         FAO (2020d) Fertilizers indicators. FAOSTAT (license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/EF.

>         FAO (2020e) Fertilizers by Product. FAOSTAT (license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO). Available at: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/RFB.

>         FAO (forthcoming) Livestock and environment statistics: manure and greenhouse gas emissions. Global regional and country trends 1990-2018. FAOSTAT Analytical Brief Series. Rome.

>         IPCC (n.d.) Publications: Methodology Reports. Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (TFI). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Available at: https://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/index.html.

 


This analytical brief was prepared by Javier Montero-Serrano and Francesco N Tubiello, FAO Statistics Division. Completed on 31 August 2020.

Suggested citation: FAO (2020) Inorganic Fertilizers 1961-2018. FAOSTAT Analytical Brief Series 9. FAO, Rome, Italy.

Photo © Francesco N Tubiello