Reading my original piece about the ‘global alliance for climate smart agriculture’ people will have noticed the prominent role of a fertiliser company called Yara and may, like me, have been puzzled by the prominent role of Walmart.
At the farm level, trying to reduce the impact on the climate I have been frustrated about the lack of information as to how much emission damage is already connected with Nitrogen fertiliser. The manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser requires a considerable input of energy but exact information about this is not freely available at the farm level. It also, of course, was very noticeable in 2008 how quickly the price rose when cereal prices rose and how the fertiliser cost had to be recouped after the cereal prices had fallen back again.
I think I am now in a better position to shed a little light on all these matters. It appears that Yara and other fertiliser interest were heavily involved in the inception of this global alliance, it also appears that the profits of Yara and an equally large American company called Mosaic increased by 100% in 2008. The production of nitrogen fertiliser is very possibly responsible for 1 – 2% of global energy use. This, of course means that it is probably responsible for an equivalent amount of emissions, unless, as is possible with Yara some of the production is connected with hydro-electric dams. However, the fertiliser industry uses a lot of natural gas and Yara chairs the Gas Working Party of the International Federation of Industrial Energy Users, it is also linked with the development of fracking. There is of course the additional problem that the actual use of nitrogen fertiliser can lead to the release of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.
In spite of these problems these companies are trying to establish the position that well managed and increasing use of nitrogen fertiliser can be climate friendly because it will cause increasing yields. In this way, they argue, a rising population can be fed without converting forest into crop land. So where do Walmart fit in, together with Nestle and some others? They have agreed to establish ‘climate friendly food chains’, incorporating this paradigm about nitrogen fertiliser. At the same time it appears that they would like to smother this discussion about ways of using less nitrogen fertiliser.