Solving this ecological and humanitarian crisis

Bill Brady, Renewable Energy and Materials Expert, CEO/Founder Kula Bio

One hundred years ago, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was invented. It was an incredible creation. It provided enough food production for the world’s population to grow from 3 billion people to our current population of 7 billion people. That’s the good news. The bad news, and the current environmental crisis, is that synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are responsible for: about 5% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, based on my calculations of EPA data. This comes from the fossil fuel-based Haber-Bosch production process and from the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. To make matters worse, about 60% of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops washes away and ends up in our waterways or pollutes the air.

In addition, as our population grows to: 10 billion people we will need even more nitrogen fertilizer in the coming decades. So we are in a precarious situation: we need nitrogen for a healthy and growing population, but we are having a devastating effect on the environment by producing and using it.

In addition to the current environmental crisis related to nitrogen fertilizers, supply chain problems and nitrogen fertilizer shortages are also likely to lead to food shortages and a humanitarian crisis. Russia produces 20% of the world’s nitrogen fertilizer (due to the fact that there is cheap and abundant natural gas). It’s easy to imagine that geopolitical instability in the region will drive the developed world to pay more for food. It’s also not hard to imagine that the developing world simply won’t have enough food.

We have a big problem. We need a solution. But there is hope.

As is often the case, free markets have recognized and responded to the crisis. Several innovative companies and technologies have developed environmentally friendly alternatives that do not depend on countries rich in fossil fuels. Many are biologically based and rely on fixing nitrogen from the air (the air we breathe is 80% nitrogen!) or finding and using excess nitrogen in the soil. Great stuff. However, we need to find a way to implement these technologies quickly.

Farmers are key to making this historic shift, but we need to get “behind their backs” and get through this together. The most powerful approach to supporting farmers’ adoption, positively impacting the environment and securing food for the world is to combine technology and policy.

Technology company innovators and entrepreneurs: Technology leaders should provide farmers with solutions that a) do not cost more, b) can be implemented as part of general farm practices, and c) do not require expensive capital equipment. It’s quite an assignment. It can be done when innovators “put the customer at the center of the business” and direct their innovation around customer feedback. This may seem obvious, but companies often spend years innovating based on internal analysis. This extends the innovation cycle and the time for new technologies to have an impact.

Policy: In my view, governments should focus on clear market signals that support new technologies, i.e. policies that the farmer understands, can adhere to and can make money in an easy way. In this case, all we need to do is: pay farmers for annual reductions in synthetic nitrogen use (we know it’s good to use less synthetic nitrogen) and pay farmers for regenerative practices (we know that regenerative farming practices such as eliminating or reducing tillage, practicing crop rotation and planting ground covers are good). This can improve holistic land practices, which use the power of plant photosynthesis to sequester carbon in the soil while improving soil health, crop yields, water resistance and nutrient density.

Farmers: The farmers have to implement all of this to have an impact. I’ve talked to hundreds of farmers over the years and I’ve found that if we provide farmers with a competitive solution that solves their problems and gives them a fair return, we can count on them to bring the technology to life on their farms.

I can guarantee that whatever it takes to motivate the farmer and tackle these issues in the right way will be much lower than if we had to clean up huge environmental and humanitarian costs later on. And I am optimistic. I believe in free markets to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe that thoughtful, compassionate leaders can and will do the right thing. This is our time to leave the world a better place. Let’s make it happen. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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