The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) describes itself as “the global authority that sets the environmental agenda… and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.” Through its “Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food” program launched in 2014, the UNEP advocates that nations “steer away from the prevailing focus on per hectare productivity.”
But today the world is in its worst food crisis since 2008. The number of people suffering acute food insecurity increased by 25% since January 2022 to 345 million, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. Why, then, is the UNEP trying to steer nations away from fertilizers that increase food production?
The UNEP’s Acting Director in 2019 said the reason was humankind’s “long-term interference with the Earth’s nitrogen balance.” In October of that year, the UNEP hosted a meeting in the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo and issued a “road map” to push nations to cut nitrogen pollution in half.
But the Netherlands proves that nations can slash nitrogen pollution from livestock by 70% while also increasing meat production. Same for crops. Since the early 1960s, the Netherlands has doubled its yields while using the same amount of fertilizer. While rich nations produce 70 percent higher yields than poor nations, they use just 54 percent more nitrogen.
One month after the Colombo meeting in 2019, which generated significant media attention in Sri Lanka, voters in that nation elected an anti-fertilizer president, H.E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who claimed, without scientific evidence, that synthetic fertilizers were causing kidney diseases. In April 2021, he banned fertilizer imports.
In June, 2021, two months after the fertilizer ban, Sri Lanka hosted a UN-sponsored “Food System Dialogue” aimed at influencing the UN’s broader anti-fertilizer agenda for the world. “Sri Lanka’s inaugural Food System Dialogue is part of a series of national and provincial dialogues conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture ahead of the 2021 UN Food System Summit set to take place in New York later this year.”
In his statement to the UN Food System Summit in New York in September, Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa repeated his claim that “chemical fertilizers… led to adverse health and environmental impacts.” He said, “My Government took the bold step to restrict imports of these harmful substances earlier this year,” and blamed farmers for resisting his fertilizer ban, saying that “changing the mindset of farmers long accustomed to using chemical fertiliser has proven challenging.”
In fact, the fertilizer ban was causing a crash in agricultural production. After the fertilizer ban, 85% of Sri Lankan farmers experienced crop losses. Rice production fell 20%, prices rose 50 percent, and the nation had to import $450 million worth of the grain. In Rajanganaya, where farmers operate on just a hectare (2.5 acres), of land on average, families reported producing half their normal crop harvest.
There were other factors behind the government’s fall, but those factors affected many other nations and none fell. Covid lockdowns hurt tourism. The government borrowed too much. Oil prices rose. All were factors and none were decisive. What made the difference was Sri Lanka’s ban on fertilizers.
Hardest hit was tea. It had generated $1.3 billion in exports annually and provided 71% of the nation’s food imports before 2021. After the fertilizer ban, tea production crashed 18%, reaching its lowest level in 23 years. The government’s devastating ban on fertilizer thus destroyed the ability of Sri Lanka to pay for food, fuel, and service its debt.
The UN justifies its anti-fertilizer agenda on the same basis as the Sri Lankan government: cost savings. UN documents claim that its goal for nations to “Halve Nitrogen Waste” would save nations “$100 billion annually.” But the same document promotes a “circular economy,” which is a euphemism used by Green parties in Europe to refer to economic “de-growth” based on making food and energy production less productive.
UNEP isn’t the only UN agency promoting an anti-fertilizer agenda. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2018 launched the “Scaling Up Agroecology” Initiative. It is not a research initiative, it is an advocacy initiative. It claims “agroecological systems are vital… for addressing poverty, hunger, and climate change.” In fact, agroecology, which doesn’t use synthetic fertilizer, reduces food production, and thus increases poverty and hunger.
Now, the UNEP is seeking to move nations away from modern fertilizers through “the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS)” under the guise of science. It calls INMS a “science support process” as part of an “Inter-Convention Nitrogen Coordination Mechanism (INCOM).”
What’s going on? Why is the United Nations promoting a kind of food production proven to reduce yields, raise prices, and topple governments? And what can be done to stop it?