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IFA, Director General

Charlotte Hebebrand, Director General of IFA, explains the rationale for this event, and invites key High Level Forum participants to provide their reflections on sustainable food systems.
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Mostafa TERRAB

IFA Chairman and Chairman and CEO, OCP Group

We are gathering to discuss sustainable plant nutrition because it is a key element of a serious global challenge that is also a huge opportunity: how to feed a growing global population, and make farming a sustainable and productive livelihood for all the world’s farmers – including the poorest smallholder farmers – while protecting the environment, adapting to climate change, and serving as responsible stewards of the planet’s natural resources.

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Vice-Chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU

What is the role of nitrogen in agriculture? 

Nitrogen is a building block of life. It is central to the chemical structure of chlorophyll, which fuels photosynthesis. Without nitrogen there is nothing. As a result of our ability to harness nitrogen via the Haber-Bosch process we have increased food production enormously to support billions more people without an equivalent increase in the amount of land under cultivation.

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CEO, Nutrien

What kinds of innovations have helped to enhance the efficiency of fertilizer use?

We have been able to drive improved fertilizer efficiency by innovating across the full agronomic menu of crop production. Right from understanding what the soil needs, to what seed to planted, to selecting the right fertility management program. Innovation has helped ensure that more of the nutrients we apply end up in the plant, rather than being lost to the environment.

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Director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

How would you summarize the most important findings emerging from the impressive research and outreach of CCAFS these last ten years?

Our focus is on smallholder systems, and so on the mitigation side of climate change I think we have got a good handle of the priorities for climate change mitigation. Emissions in smallholder systems were largely unknown a decade ago.

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Agriculture Portfolio Manager, Airbus

Everyone knows Airbus, but less about its involvement in the agricultural space – could you elaborate on this?

Airbus is well known for airplanes, but it is also active in the space industry as a satellite manufacturer and as a service provider. We are the oldest commercial satellite imagery provider and serve people who want to get images taken from space over a given area. Historically, most of this activity was driven by defense needs, but we have been active in the agriculture domain almost since the beginning of our journey in the late 1980s.

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President, IFDC

Can you please tell us a little bit about the role of the IFDC?

The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) was established in 1974 as a result of the global oil crises which caused, amongst other issues, skyrocketing fertilizer prices. Food shortages occurred in developing countries. The US Government wanted to help by reducing cost of agricultural inputs, specifically fertilizers, as a way to establish food security.

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Chief Executive, Rothamsted Research

What is site specific nutrient management and why does it matter? 

In the past 60 + years we have experienced a fairly linear correlation between global fertilizer use and global crop production. This has been one of the key trends associated with the Green Revolution, and often it was driven by quite general fertilizer recommendations. Nutrient use as well as nutrient use efficiency vary greatly worldwide, including significant losses into the environment or even soil nutrient mining in some regions.

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Howarth BOUIS

Director, HarvestPlus

What are micronutrients and why are they so crucial for soil, plant and human health?

Farmers have largely relied on NPK fertilizers to replenish these primary macronutrients in the soil, which have been taken up by crops, and to promote agricultural productivity.  Yet, additional secondary macronutrients and micronutrients are also crucial for ensuring healthy soils and healthy crops, as already spelled out by Justus von Liebig’s Law of The Minimum (1840)...

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What do you perceive as the most pressing resource constraints in your business and how do you address them?

Resource constrains are a material issue for our organization, as stakeholders (employees, regulators, customers, investors, NGO's, etc.) are increasingly environmentally-concerned, and expect the company to both minimize raw material usuage and waste output in our production, and to make sure that the nutrient efficiency of its fertilizers is maximized and environmental damage (nutrient leaching and volatilization) is minimized.

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Christian WITT

Senior Program Officer, Soil Health and Lead, Digital Farm Services, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How does plant nutrition fit into the Agricultural Development focus of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

There is abundant evidence that in Sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of South Asia where we focus our agriculture investments, depleted soils are common.  Crop productivity in these regions cannot be increased without a greater emphasis on Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices that substantially and sustainably improve soil nutrients. 

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Vice President Global Sustainability & Governmental Affairs Agricultural Solutions, BASF


Head of Business Management, Nitrogen Management, BASF

Now active across major input areas (crop protection, seeds and plant nutrition), how focused is BASF on R&D and bringing innovative products to the market?

For over a century, BASF has been at the forefront of innovation since BASF transformed food production with the world's first commercial fertilizers. Feeding the world’s growing population, while facing challenges such as unpredictable weather, efficient control of diseases and pests, scarcity of natural resources and available farmland, makes the need for innovation even more essential. We must continue the tradition of transformation with relentless innovation and practical action - getting mud on our boots and delivering real results for farmers and real value for society. After the successful integration of the acquired businesses and with the creation of our new strategy, we are beginning a new chapter in the long history of our division in agriculture.

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Professor, Wageningen University & Research


PhD Researcher at Environmental Analysis Group, Wageningen University & Research

The Netherlands is a high-livestock density territory. How has the ratio between mineral fertilizers and manure changed over time, and what is the relative contribution of each to environmental challenges in the country?

For nitrogen, about two-thirds is applied in the form of manure (in Dutch dierlijke mest). and one third as fertilizer (in Dutch kunstmest). For phosphate, > 90% is applied as manure. Both nitrogen and phosphorus inputs have declined by ca. 40 % over the last 30 years (see figure below). Current environmental problems related to N and P are mainly caused by manure, due to the extremely high animal densities (3.8 livestock units per hectare of agricultural land as compared to an EU average of 0.8) that are sustained by high feed imports.

How can regions around the world reconcile still required N inputs to enhance crop production with concerns about N losses to air and water?

Four strategies:

(i) Re-location strategies: reduce agricultural N inputs in areas where farmers practice is (far) above crop N demand...

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Director General, CIMMYT

What are the key priorities of CIMMYT and main focuses when it comes to plant nutrition?

CIMMYT’s plant nutrition focus is on precision nutrient management in smallholder wheat and maize farming systems across South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Together with partners, we develop and validate decision tools such as mobile apps, which help smallholders manage nutrient use in their fields by providing them with scenarios of yield outcomes under different rates of nutrients.

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Global Agriculture Director, The Nature Conservancy

Our conservation mission rests on the need to meet growing global food system demands in ways which do not require significant agricultural expansion. Our targets are ambitious: reducing nutrient run-off in the Mississippi Basin by 20 per cent, or channeling all cropland expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado into land already cleared. Targets at that scale require coalitions...

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Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel

What is the International Resource Panel (IRP) and how has it interacted with agribusinesses?

The International Resource Panel is a UNEP based initiative and a sister organization of two other UN based science-policy interface bodies, the IPCC and IPBES. While the IPCC deals with climate change and IPBES with biodiversity loss, the IRP focusses on natural resources and resource management. Resources include biomass, fossil fuels, metals, non-metallic minerals, land and water. 

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Sameer GOEL

Managing Director, Coromandel International

Why, in your view, has the government of India (or Indian experts) taken the lead in various international fora to highlight the need for more effective nitrogen management?

Indian policy makers recognize that there has been an overuse of nitrogen-based nutrients and a few policy measures have already kicked in in the last 3-4 years.
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Chairperson Scientific Panel on Sustainable Plant Nutrition
IPNI Canada

How do we most effectively increase nutrient use efficiency and minimize nutrient losses to the environment?

The most important word in this question is “we.” The important players include not only every segment of the fertilizer industry, but all those engaged in enhancing agricultural productivity. The nutrient use efficiency gains achieved so far have resulted from the collective works of those involved in crop breeding, genetic improvement, crop protection, precision agriculture, equipment for nutrient application, and education of farmers and their advisers, along with better products and decision support services. Read more

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