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The impact of population pressure on global fertiliser use intensity, 1970–2011: An analysis of policy-induced mediation


  • Xiang, Tao
  • Malik, Tariq H.
  • Nielsen, Klaus


Population growth generates various challenges for humankind. One such challenge is linked to the trade-off between food security and food safety (environmental quality). Increasing population and shrinking agricultural land necessitates productivity gains in agricultural production in order to secure food security. However, intensive use of agrochemicals (fertiliser and pesticides) impacts on food safety through deteriorated environmental quality. This security-safety dilemma is recognised but has rarely been thoroughly examined empirically. In this paper, we address the dilemma by examining increased fertiliser use due to population pressure. Based on a dynamic fixed-effects model and panel data for 77 countries for the period 1970–2011, we provide a solid empirically analysis of the trade-off. First, the findings show that population pressure has significant impacts on fertiliser use in countries with high population pressure. The impacts are both direct and indirect (i.e., mediated by agricultural protection and food trade policies). Our analysis demonstrates that an increase in population pressure by 1% yields a 0.118% increase in fertiliser use intensity for this group of countries. Second, the direct impact is aggravated by agricultural protection, but attenuated by food import in high-pressure countries. Third, countries with high population pressure import food from low-pressure countries to meet their food security needs in favour of environmental protection. This may not be a food safety problem for low-pressure countries as the fertiliser use in these countries is still relatively low at a level of only one third of high-pressure countries' fertiliser use. In other words, the mediating role of food trade appears to be a rational international solution. In the last decades, agricultural support of intensification of agricultural production by means of agrochemicals has decreased. A continuation of this trend together with increased international food trade and, in particular, technological innovation and infrastructural investment are needed to establish a better trade-off between food security and food safety.

Suggested Citation

  • Xiang, Tao & Malik, Tariq H. & Nielsen, Klaus, 2020. "The impact of population pressure on global fertiliser use intensity, 1970–2011: An analysis of policy-induced mediation," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 152(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:tefoso:v:152:y:2020:i:c:s0040162517314336
    DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2019.119895

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