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Nitrogen pollution policy beyond the farm

Abstract

Nitrogen is a crucial input to food production and yet its oversupply in many parts of the world contributes to a number of environmental problems. Most policies dedicated to reducing agricultural nitrogen pollution focus on changing farmer behaviour. However, farm-level policies are challenging to implement and farmers are just one of several actors in the agri-food chain. The activities of other actors — from fertilizer manufacturers to wastewater treatment companies — can also impact nitrogen losses at the farm level and beyond. Consequently, policymakers have a broader range of policy options than traditionally thought to address nitrogen pollution from field to fork. Inspired by the concept of full-chain nitrogen use efficiency, this Perspective introduces the major actors common in agri-food chains from a nitrogen standpoint, identifies nitrogen policies that could be targeted towards them and proposes several new criteria to guide ex-ante analysis of the feasibility and design of different policy interventions. Sustainably feeding ten billion people by 2050 will require fundamental changes in the global food system — a broad portfolio of policy options and a framework for how to select them is essential.

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Fig. 1: The agri-food chain from a nitrogen perspective.

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D.R.K. developed the idea and led the writing, with contributions from F.B., S.K., A.L., O.O. and A.U.

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Correspondence to David R. Kanter.

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Kanter, D.R., Bartolini, F., Kugelberg, S. et al. Nitrogen pollution policy beyond the farm. Nat Food 1, 27–32 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-019-0001-5

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