Nutrients are getting scarcer - 28/12/2010


Today’s Telegraaf (a Dutch newspaper) featured an article entitled Price of fertiliser will become sky-high. The article fits in perfectly with one of our current projects.

Some nutrients are becoming scarcer. Take phosphate, for example. Of all of the world’s superpowers, Europe is the most dependent on the import of phosphate. Almost the entire supply needs to be imported from outside the continent. Europe imports about 6 kilograms of phosphate ore per citizen per year. This equals 2.2 million tons of phosphate annually. In the longer term, a shortage of phosphate is foreseen if Europe’s food supply is to be guaranteed. The prices of phosphate have risen substantially in the past few years. On the other hand, we still have a surplus of animal fertilisers in the Netherlands.

In this respect it is remarkable that we never talk about the ‘fertiliser problem’ of 16 million Dutch citizens. After all, their excrement is also going somewhere, isn’t it? Together with parties from the food processing industry and agriculture and horticulture, we are currently surveying how we can achieve more closed cycles and how we can dispose of the nutrients thus becoming available in a cost-effective way, now and in the future.

Based on this insight, we want to develop knowledge about cost-effective and sustainable solutions, in such a way that there are several advantages. We solve a fertiliser problem, we make European agriculture more sustainable, we become less dependent on the import of nutrients and we create new economic activity.

This knowledge supports a much broader field of knowledge – cleantech, as it is called – which is coming up in the next few years. On the basis of its history with water and agriculture, the Netherlands has the ingredients to support this field of study internationally. Let’s do that.

Are you interested in thinking along with us? You are welcome. Contact me at

Bert van Helvoirt (Telegraaf article ‘Price of fertiliser will become sky-high’, in Dutch)