Policy ForumAgriculture

Nutrient Imbalances in Agricultural Development

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Science  19 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5934, pp. 1519-1520
DOI: 10.1126/science.1170261

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Summary

Nutrient cycles link agricultural systems to their societies and surroundings; inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus in particular are essential for high crop yields, but downstream and downwind losses of these same nutrients diminish environmental quality and human well-being. Agricultural nutrient balances differ substantially with economic development, from inputs that are inadequate to maintain soil fertility in parts of many developing countries, particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa, to excessive and environmentally damaging surpluses in many developed and rapidly growing economies. National and/or regional policies contribute to patterns of nutrient use and their environmental consequences in all of these situations (1). Solutions to the nutrient challenges that face global agriculture can be informed by analyses of trajectories of change within, as well as across, agricultural systems.