- Phosphorus is commonly found in the Earth’s crust in the form of various phosphate minerals, such as apatite.
- It is an essential mineral, and is naturally present in many foods and available as a dietary supplement.
- Phosphorus is a component of bones, teeth, DNA, and RNA.
- Phosphorus compounds, particularly phosphates, are essential components of fertilizers, promoting plant growth and improving crop yields.
- Phosphates are used in detergents, food additives, water treatment, metallurgy, and flame retardants.
- In India there is a deficit in Apiate and Rock Phosphate availability.
- India is the world’s largest importer of phosphorus followed by Germany, primarily sourcing it from West African deposits contaminated with cadmium.
- According to the Indian Minerals Yearbook 2018, Rock Phosphate production in India is only from two states namely, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Challenges with Phosphorus
- Phosphorus is a finite resource, primarily derived from phosphate rock reserves. A few countries, such as Morocco, and Western Sahara region, control the majority of global phosphate rock reserves raising concerns about geopolitical tensions.
- Approximately only one-fifth of mined phosphorus is used for food production, with the rest being lost to water bodies through agricultural runoff due to excessive fertilizer use.
- The excessive use of phosphorus-based fertilizers in agriculture, as well as runoff from agricultural lands, contributes to eutrophication, where excessive nutrients cause algal blooms, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems.
- Phosphate rock mining poses environmental challenges, including habitat destruction, water pollution, and energy consumption.
- Most of the phosphorus that people consume ends up in the sewage along with nitrates. Nitrates can be digested by denitrifying bacteria and released safely as nitrogen gas into the atmosphere, while phosphorus remains trapped in the sediments and water column and can cause harmful algal blooms.
Measures to tackle this problem
- It is important to promote precision agriculture practices to optimize the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers. This includes soil testing and nutrient management plans to ensure that phosphorus is applied at the right rate and time, reducing overuse and minimizing runoff.
- It is important to Invest in wastewater treatment plants and technologies that can recover phosphorus from sewage and industrial effluents. Recycled phosphorus can then be used as a nutrient source in agriculture.
- Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and enhance phosphorus uptake. Promoting the use of mycorrhizal inoculants in agriculture can help improve nutrient efficiency.
- There is a need to encourage the adoption of source-separating toilets that separate urine and feces. Urine is rich in phosphorus and can be collected and processed into a local fertilizer source.
- It is important to establish comprehensive data collection and monitoring systems to track phosphorus use, loss, and environmental impacts, to enable evidence-based policymaking and interventions.