Phosphate is as essential to life as oxygen, water or carbon. All living cells require phosphate as it is a component of the cell wall and DNA. Phosphate cannot be manufactured and there is no synthetic substitute to replace it.
With a growing world population that is incorporating meat and dairy products into their diet, phosphorus reserves have become a critical aspect of many countries’ food security. The ability of nations to feed their people in the future will depend on their access to phosphate fertilizer at affordable prices to farmers. In Mexico less than 60% of the food consumption needs in the country are produced internally. The main countries from which Mexico imports phosphate rock are Morocco, USA, Ukraine and Peru. According to statistics from INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geology) the country’s increasing need to import phosphate stands out as a significant concern since the potential shortage of the resource would be detrimental to Mexico’s agriculture industry.
What is phosphate?
Phosphates are natural compounds that contain phosphorous and other minerals. Phosphate is a non-renewable resource that cannot be produced artificially. Phosphorous is a key element of life and is present in every living organism. A small quantity is found in tissue, and large quantities can be found in specific types of skeletons, specially in the bones of vertebrates and the shells of certain invertebrates. Phosphates play a key role in energy transmission processes like metabolism and photosynthesis.
Phosphate deposits are very relevant for food production. They are one of the most important elements of fertilizers. Close to three quarters of the total amount of available phosphorus exploitable worldwide is used in fertilizers. Other important uses for it include detergents, nutritional supplements in animal food, water softeners, food and pharmaceutical additives, coating agents in treatments for metallic surfaces, metallurgy additives, plasticizers, insecticides and oil product additives.
Phosphate is an essential component to the development of a nation. Nothing in the world grows without the adequate fertilization with phosphates.
With a potential population of 9100 million humans in the year 2050, we will require 70% more food than what is currently produced, all within the same amount of land. Nations’ ability to feed its citizens in the future will depend on their access to fertilizers (which includes phosphate) at competitive prices for farmers. Mexico consumes 2.4 million tons of phosphate rock every year, and of that amount, one million tons are imported from Morocco, USA, Ukraine and Peru.
Mexico has enough phosphate reserves to become self-sufficient and export to the United States during the upcoming years.
Availability of Phosphate
Up until 1940, the world’s phosphate came from manure. Since then, the world’s population has become increasingly dependent on phosphate rock for phosphorus used in commercial fertilizer. Phosphate rock is the only new source of phosphorus entering the food production chain. The consistency and volume of food production therefore depend on the accessibility of phosphorus to farmers. Phosphate is available naturally due to the decomposition of phosphoric rock, which ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans due to erosion processes.
An English version of an article printed in the Mexican press on this subject can be read here.