FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

"Heavy metal? Thank you, no!"

Photo: ©FAO/Vladimir Mikheev
29/11/2022

On 8 November, Oleg Kobiakov, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation, spoke at the symposium “Cadmium rationing in phosphorus fertilizers to solve global challenges of food systems and environmental safety of the XXI century” organized by the Russian State Agrarian University, the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and PhosAgro.

Leading Russian and foreign experts from the FAO Global Soil Partnership, the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub, the Eurasian Soil Partnership, and universities attended the forum, which have received the basic level of state accreditation, and specialized research institutes.

In his opening remarks, Vladimir Trukhachev, Rector of the Russian State Agrarian University named after K. A. Timiryazev, expressed his gratitude to FAO for supporting the modernization of the V. R. Williams Museum, the world’s largest soil and agronomy museum, saying, “We are grateful and thankful to you for this”.

For his part, in his welcome speech, Oleg Kobiakov conveyed the best wishes to the audience on behalf of the FAO Moscow office team and from Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General, Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia.

“FAO maintains friendly relations with Timiryazev Academy. Our relations “have been documented”, we have signed a Memorandum of understanding, and we are proud of our close ties with the oldest and very promising agrarian university”, the Head of the FAO Moscow Office said.

During his presentation at the main session, Oleg Kobiakov spoke about the Global Food Summit that has become the starting point for FAO’s work aimed at improving agrifood systems and eradicating hunger.

“By 2050, the world’s population will exceed 9.7 billion people, and it will be necessary to increase food production by at least 70% to feed that many of our neighbours on the planet. All this will have to be done in the face of declining production resources. It is basically the reduction of arable land, the availability and efficiency of other production environments used for agriculture and related industries (forestry and the fishing industry)”, the FAO expert noted.

There is a reduction in the availability and accessibility of production resources needed in the agricultural sector. “Fertilizers are one of the most important production precursors. If we imagine that fertilizers, whether organic or mineral, are not used, then the productivity and efficiency of most plant crops will drop significantly”, Oleg Kobiakov highlighted, “In that case, the whole world, and not just a part of it, will face a real threat of hunger.”

In this context, Russia has been lucky in terms of availability of fertilizers. “Fertilizers, both raw materials and their production, provide a huge competitive advantage for Russia. The country, as the experience of previous decades has shown, is also responsible for its role as a supplier of fertilizers to world markets”, he added, “Nowadays, fertilizers make a key contribution to crop productivity and ultimately to global food security”.

The main part of the speech of the Director of the Moscow Office was dedicated to the “International Code of Conduct for the sustainable use and management of fertilizers”.

“Such a problem as the content of cadmium and other heavy metals in fertilizers is becoming the object of close attention of specialists and the public. FAO is a knowledge organization, a norm-setting organization that responds to public demand, and the request of member countries to form a scientific and technical community. In addition to the Fertilizer Code, FAO has developed a range of guidelines and recommendations in many areas of agriculture, and in recent years there has been a lot of FAO normative work on soils.” Oleg Kobiakov noted in conclusion.

Ronald Vargas, Secretary-General of the FAO Global Soil Partnership (GSP), told the participants about the modern soil-related threats. “Today, we have faced a food crisis as well as a fertilizer one, as prices have grown, and for small-scale farms, they have become practically unaffordable, Dr Vargas defined the issue.

“In this connection, we should use all the necessary tools to increase productivity while conserving the natural resource base, including our soils’ health. The assessment of fertilizers’ quality is of high importance. We cannot recommend the use of specific fertilizers, the products of specific manufacturers. We can only point to fertilizers the quality of which complies with the guidelines applied in the field of sustainable development and in the framework of ‘The international Code of Conduct for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilizers’.”

“We believe that such events will contribute to submitting the available scientific knowledge for discussion and to acquiring the missing information related to ensuring sustainable crop production with the use of fertilizers, and with the consideration of their content as well as of the soil content and condition”, clarified Ronald Vargas.

“Regulatory constraints (on food and fertilizers trade) lead to the disruption of existing supply chains”, declared in his video-address Alexander Sharabaiko, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors at PhosAgro, “We as a company urge not to allow further escalation of the food crisis at the global scale. We consider that fertilizers should be a universally recognized commodity needed to meet basic human needs.”

“In the modern world, the governments of the states around the world are currently facing two pressing issues and two challenges”, said Alexander Yakovenko, Rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the MFA of the Russian Federation, “Increasing crop productivity, which will allow to provide the inhabitants of the planet with food. And reducing contamination of agricultural soils with hazardous chemical elements, including with heavy metals, which cause serious harm to the body of all those living on Earth.”

“The Russian government has set very strict criteria for the maximum content of heavy metals in mineral fertilizers, soils, as well as agricultural products, which is markedly different from the standards adopted in other states, continued professor Yakovenko.

“In accordance with the Russian standard “Products and food with improved characteristics. Mineral fertilizers. General specifications.” adopted in 2002, the maximum permissible content of cadmium in mineral phosphorus fertilizers is limited to no more than 2 mg/kg of the active substance, phosphorus pentoxide.”

However, the European Commission plans “to revise the previously adopted regulation to further limit the content of cadmium in phosphorus fertilizers imported into the EU up to no more than 40 mg/kg only in 2026,” the Rector of the Diplomatic Academy emphasized. The profile topic of discussion at the symposium was the agro-environmentally sound regulation of the content of cadmium in mineral fertilizers, taking into account:

  • background content of cadmium in arable soils and regional and typological features of the soil matrix;
  • agro-ecological features of cadmium accumulation in plant products grown on soils of different granulometric composition and levels of agrogenic degradation;
  • potential mobility of cadmium supplied with fertilizers under conditions of global climate change, its regional features and different soil cover structures;
  • recommended doses of phosphorus fertilizers for major agricultural crops with increasing differentiation in the levels of intensity of applied agricultural technologies;
  • the need for a systematic solution of tasks to minimize the environmental and economic risks of crop and livestock production in order to address the global challenges of food systems and environmental security of the 21st century.

In conclusion, the participants shared a number of practical recommendations for producers and consumers of phosphorus fertilizers.