A multi-level analysis of China's phosphorus flows to identify options for improved management in agriculture

Guohua Li, Martin K. van Ittersum, Peter A. Leffelaar, Sheida Z. Sattari, Haigang Li, Gaoqiang Huang, Fusuo Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Phosphorus (P) is a finite natural resource and is essential for food production. The amount of P involved in food production in China relative to the increase of food production has increased dramatically over the past decades, which has led to serious environmental pollution. Because of China's enormous share in global P fertilizer production (30%) and consumption (37.5%), it evidently plays a crucial role in developing a more sustainable use of this essential resource for agriculture. We performed an integrated analysis of the P flows, P stocks, P utilization efficiencies (PUE) and environmental implications at the national level in China for the year 2010, complemented with an analysis at regional, county and farm levels. The static Material Flow Analysis approach based on the law of mass balance was used. We found that P accumulation in the arable land and P losses in the livestock raising industry are the major contributors to environmental pollution. Improving the PUE in arable land and the livestock raising industry, on the basis of the actual demands combined with efforts to promote the use of residual soil P on arable land and the recycling of organic manure and wastes, will significantly reduce the consumption and losses of P from the food chain, and will slow down the depletion of this finite natural resource.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-100
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Food chain
  • P accumulation and losses
  • Phosphorus flow analysis
  • Phosphorus utilization efficiency

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