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Mining essential for food security

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Mining essential for food security
Mining plays a critical role in global food security due to its direct link in supplying the raw materials necessary for a wide range of inputs and consumables required in agriculture. Image credit: Markus Spiske from Unsplash.

Mining essential for food security

Mining is essential for the world’s growing population to have enough food in the future.    

By Leon Louw owner of WhyAfrica and editor of the WhyAfrica magazine

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) world hunger has increased by 150 million since 2019 (pre Covid-19) to 828 million people in 2021. Of those, 278 million people live in Africa and 425 million in Asia.

It is not often that we talk about mining, access to food and food shortages in one sentence. Yet, mining is essential if we want to keep a growing global population healthy and ensure that all stomachs are full.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) the scale of the current global hunger and malnutrition crisis is enormous. More than 42.3 million people face emergency levels of hunger, while more than 1.1 million people are in the grips of catastrophic hunger, many of them in South Sudan and Mali.

“The hunger crisis is caused by a deadly combination of factors including conflict, the climate crisis, and high fertiliser prices. High fertiliser prices could turn the current food affordability crisis into an availability crisis, with the production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat all falling in 2022,” states the WFP on their website.

According to the World Economic Forum, 16 countries have very high hunger levels. Africa’s hunger crisis is particularly severe in the Horn of Africa and the West and Central Africa regions.

Mining essential for food security
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Mining essential for food security

PWC’s Mine Report 2024, released yesterday, makes for fascinating reading. In the report the authors state that to ensure a well-fed future, agricultural production needs to grow more than 55% in the next two decades.

Mining plays a critical role in global food security and in reducing the impact of agricultural production on the environment, due to its direct link in supplying the raw materials necessary for a wide range of inputs and consumables required in agriculture.

Improved crop yields support a reduction in deforestation—currently responsible for 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Of the six core uses in which minerals and metals improve food security, fertiliser is the most important:

Following is a summary of the uses of minerals to improve food production:

  • Fertilisers: Phosphorus and potassium are mined minerals that are essential in producing fertilisers.
  • Water treatment: Gypsum and sulfuric acid are among the chemicals used in irrigation management to prevent water alkalinity and sodicity from affecting soil health.
  • Soil improvements: Lime (from calcium carbonate) is used to adjust soil pH levels, improving nutrient availability and soil structure. Lime contains calcium and often magnesium, which are essential plant nutrients.
  • Micronutrient supplements: Zinc, boron, manganese, iron, copper and molybdenum, which are essential for plant health, are often applied as foliar sprays or soil amendments.
  • Pesticides and herbicides: Many pesticides and herbicides contain minerals as active ingredients or as carriers. For example, copper-based fungicides and herbicides have metallic salts.
  • Animal feed supplements: Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace elements are crucial for animal health and are added to feed. Commercial fertilisers are produced from three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Whereas nitrogen is generally obtained from the oil and gas value chain, potassium and phosphorus are mined from phosphate rock and brine.

“These synthetic fertilisers have been pivotal to the successful decades-long effort to enhance crop growth, yield and quality. But to keep feeding a growing global population, crop yields on already utilised land need to improve further.

More than 40% of soils are deficient in phosphate. It’s no surprise, then, that phosphorus is classified as a critical mineral for China and the European Union, and potassium is a critical mineral for China and Canada.

“To grow the agricultural products that feed the 1.9 billion additional people who will live on the planet by 2050, global annual production of phosphorus needs to increase by 55 million tonnes per year (25%) by 2050.” (source: PWC in the PWC Mine 2024 Report).

Mining essential for food security

Mining essential for food security
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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management