10 July 2011

Phosphorus and food's future

James Elser, Ph.D.
What can we do about phosphorus and food's future?

The 15th element in the periodic table is not something that comes to mind for most people when they reflect on causes of global food crises of the past. Overpopulation, climate change, crop disease, and soil erosion are more likely to deemed as the instigators of disaster scenarios.

However, phosphorus is essential for every living thing on this planet and, according to estimates, the world's phosphorous -- needed for fertilizing plants -- will peak within half a century.

It turns out there's so much biological demand for phosphorus that it's a limiting factor for life on this planet. The critical nature of phosphorus for the future of crops was well emphasized when Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt was president, but lately government leadership has yet to bring more awareness to the problem of dwindling supplies.

James Elser, Ph.D., hopes that will change.

"That's my dream, that President Obama will say the word 'phosphorus.'" he said, jokingly (or maybe not so much).

Elser, who as a child once wished to become a priest, is on a lifelong journey to save humankind from an entirely different, serious calamity: soaring food prices and widespread world hunger because of phosphorus unavailability.