Breaking the World’s Chemical Fertiliser Addiction

TWN Info Service on Sustainable Agriculture
6 January 2023
Third World Network

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Breaking the World’s Chemical Fertiliser Addiction

For the past 50 years, fertilisers have been heavily promoted as the means for increasing crop yields, while other options for increasing soil fertility and food production have been ignored or undervalued. As a result, worldwide use of chemical fertilisers has increased tenfold since the 1960s.

Chemical fertilisers are major sources of water and air pollution. Overuse is widespread and an important cause of soil health degradation. Chemical fertilisers account for 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the world in the midst of an energy and climate crisis, prices for chemical fertilisers are skyrocketing, putting food production at severe risk in many places.

A report by GRAIN and IATP finds that farmers and governments in the G20 spent $21.8 billion more on key fertilisers imports in 2021 and 2022, while the world’s biggest fertiliser companies are expected to make almost US$84 billion profit over the same period.

The costs of overuse of fertilisers have become too much to bear—in terms of the financial burden for farmers and public budgets, the severe environmental and health impacts, and the long-term risks to food security. Actions must focus on reducing the consumption of chemical fertilisers and supporting alternatives, not increasing production. Farmers are already demonstrating that they can transition away from the use of chemical fertilisers as part of a broader transition to agroecology, without sacrificing their yields.

We reproduce below the key findings and recommendations of the report, which is available at

With best wishes,
Third World Network


By GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
8 November 2022

Key Findings

  • The cost of chemical fertilisers in both the global North and South has skyrocketed over the past two years and is putting severe economic strain on farmers’ and public budgets.
  • G20 nations paid almost twice as much for key fertiliser imports in 2021 compared to 2020 and are on course to spend three times as much in 2022 – an additional cost of at least US$ 21.8 billion. For example, the UK paid an extra US$ 144 million for fertiliser imports in 2021 and 2022, and Brazil paid an extra US$ 3.5 billion.
  • Nine developing countries are on course to pay three times more in 2022 than they did in 2020. These countries include Pakistan, which paid an extra US$ 874 million, and Ethiopia, which paid an extra US$ 384 million in 2021 and 2022.
  • The world’s largest fertiliser companies are making record profits as farmers struggle to cope with increased prices. Nine of the world’s largest fertiliser companies are expected to make US$ 57 billion in profit in 2022, up more than fourfold from two years ago; their profits in 2021 and 2022 are on course to come to a total of US$ 84 billion.
  • Actions must focus on reducing the consumption of chemical fertilisers and supporting alternative technologies – not increasing production. This will cut costs, and the damage which chemical fertilisers cause to the environment and the climate.


The evolving fertiliser crisis cannot be addressed through increased chemical fertiliser production. Actions that can be taken to reduce costs for farmers and protect future food production include:

  1. Measures, including a change in subsidies, which support a managed transition towards farming practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilisers
  2. Coordinated efforts to rapidly ramp up the production on non-chemical fertilisers and expand agroecological farming
  3. The termination of public or private philanthropic programmes that support the introduction of fertilisers into farming systems which are not already dependent on their use.
  4. Initiatives to prevent profiteering by fertiliser companies.
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