“Russia’s new weapon against Europe is food”

Europe’s dependence on Moscow has worsened since the start of the war in Ukraine. At least in the field of chemical fertilizers. Translation: Most of the food on our tables comes from fertilizers produced by Russian companies. While the European Union has become more autonomous in the field of energy than the country led by Vladimir Putin, farmers in 27 member countries continue to buy from Russia the tons of nutrients needed to till the fields. If the Kremlin decides to block exports, there is a risk that tons less food will be produced from European fields. It is a weapon that the Kremlin can use to “blackmail” EU countries, as it did in recent months when Ukraine blocked grain exports to the Black Sea and offered agricultural products to countries with food shortages. The way forward would be to encourage the purchase of less polluting bio-based fertilizers produced in Europe, but so far there is no specific incentive.

European farmers import Russian fertilizer

The CEO of Yara, one of the leading companies in Norway’s fertilizer industry, raised the alarm in his meeting with the press. “We have clearly seen how Russia or Putin uses fertilizer and food as weapons,” Svein Tore Holsether told reporters, adding that “we should not be naive about what could happen next,” referring to European food security. Holsether then spoke of possible “shocks” to the industry if supplies from Russia were suddenly cut off. At the meeting, Eurostat data on fertilizer trade for the period July 2022 – June 2023 was presented. First of all, total nitrogen imports increased compared to the previous period (+34%). Here Russia represents approximately one-third of total imports. Urea arrivals from abroad increased by 53%, almost doubling compared to the period before the start of the war in Ukraine (2020-2021). 40 percent comes from Russian companies. Although a slowdown in purchases has been detected, Moscow continues to represent almost a third of total imports.

sanctions hypothesis

The short-term reduction of energy dependence on Russia caused serious difficulties for both companies and families, with rapidly increasing bills and galloping inflation. Recalling this situation, Holsether said, “I would be very worried if we sleepwalked and did the same thing about fertilizer as we did about energy.” Regarding this issue, the Latvian delegation at the European Council requested discussion on “sanctions on agricultural products imported from Russia”, which will be on the agenda at the next EU Agriculture Ministers meeting to be held on January 23. However, given the lack of immediate alternatives for the European market, it is not clear that the enforcement route will be the most appropriate.

Environmental problems due to chemical fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers pose a wider environmental problem that should not be taken lightly. The carbon footprint of chemical fertilizers coming from Russia or other parts of the world is 50-60 percent higher than European production. But more generally, chemical fertilizers have now become “doped” on European soils, reducing their natural fertility and contaminating soils that are now largely degraded. With extreme climate events and desertification, Europe is now at risk of not producing enough food. It is a problem that the EU is trying to solve by defining soil monitoring law. Given the numerous obstacles posed by fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers, as well as agricultural lobbies, effective legislation remains a long way off.

Incentives for organic fertilizers

The aim of Yara and other European fertilizer producers is to obtain a financing framework for farmers to purchase products suitable for the green transition, thus encouraging product purchases. green Fertilizer production by European companies requires large expenditures of energy, especially fossil fuels such as gas. According to experts, it will take “at least fifteen or twenty years” for fossil-based fertilizers to be phased out. Kevin O’Connor, professor of applied microbiology and biotechnology at University College Dublin, said in an interview in late December that the alternative includes a switch to bio-based solutions, but specific incentives are needed. 2024 could be a decisive year in terms of determining the European trends of the next decade in the agricultural sector. The EU Parliament’s rejection of legislation to reduce pesticides did not help in this sense. The longer these decisions are postponed, the more difficult it will be to be independent from Russian domination in the fertilizer industry.

Continue reading on Today.it

Source: Today IT