Research and Development Division (RDD)
Recent food and fertilizer crises have demonstrated that ensuring sustainable food security and growth in agricultural production are major challenges. To promote food security and environmental protection, agricultural productivity must be increased in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Increased agricultural productivity requires new technologies and policies that support enhanced food production by smallholder and commercial farmers.
The Research and Development Division of IFDC recognizes these food security issues and has developed two groups of highly skilled researchers, technicians, scientists, agronomists, economists and other professionals to address the world’s biggest agricultural challenges. RDD is comprised of the Agro-Economics and Fertilizer Technology Programs. The two programs are interrelated and interface regularly with field operations across the globe.
The driving force for RDD’s programs are embodied in three strategic initiatives: the Africa Productivity Initiative with the objective to double crop yields of assisted farmers; the Nitrogen Efficiency Initiative with the objective to increase, for assisted farmers, the efficiency of nitrogen use to at least 45 percent, thus increasing profits while reducing pollution; and the Phosphate Efficiency Initiative with the objective to make directly applied phosphate rock as effective as more expensive water-soluble phosphate fertilizers.
To support these initiatives the program’s research and development core activities include the following:
- Improving the efficiency and management of nitrogen through efficient fertilizer products and improved application, water use and soil health.
- Understanding environmental and climate change aspects of carbon (biomass, charcoal, organic matter), nutrients (N, P, K, S) and water recycling.
- Developing and promoting resource conservation management techniques to conserve soils and water and promote agricultural intensification.
- Assessing the long-term benefits of phosphate rock as a capital investment and improving the efficiency of phosphate rock through modified products and improved soil-root-phosphorus interactions.
- Economic analysis of fertilizer pricing, elasticity and subsidy policies.
- Research on and identification of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
- Socioeconomic impact of fertilizer deep placement and related technologies.
- Developing and applying statistical/decision support tools to manage agricultural development, evaluate environmental impact and predict global aspects of plant nutrient flows and fertilizer trade.
- Research and study the potential development of public-private partnerships in order to expand fertilizer markets in Africa.
- Conducting value chain and policy research in selected African countries.
- Research factors affecting the global fertilizer markets and outlook.
- Technical support to and coordination with field projects in Africa and Eurasia.
The Agro-Economics Program (AEP)
AEP consists of two major components: 1) agronomy; and 2) socioeconomic aspects of crop production and natural resource management. The agronomy component focuses on nutrient and water management technologies, while the socioeconomic component conducts research on the economic and social relevance of technologies and policy, as well as market development options.
IFDC’s goal is to promote food security, agricultural growth and environmental protection through sound and viable fertilizer/crop production technologies, policies and institutional arrangements.
Toward that goal, IFDC’s Agro-Economics Program is currently working on the following research and development themes:
- Development and transfer of soil, nutrient and water management technologies, with a focus on improving nitrogen use efficiency, soil fertility management and use of indigenous resources such as phosphate rock.
- Research on the risk and environmental impact assessment of new technologies and the preparation of sustainability indices and improved fertilizer use recommendations.
- Integrated research, evaluation and development of existing, new and potential fertilizer technologies for commercial introduction to farmers in developing nations.
- Economic assessment of new technologies, policies and institutions for crop production, natural resource management and market development.
- Research on the design of policies and institutions that support the adoption of technologies and development of agricultural markets.
- Development of policies and programs to address issues resulting from market failure and environmental externalities.
- Research on tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade of inputs and outputs.
- Research on designing market-friendly safety nets for resource-poor farmers.
- Development of decision support and market information systems to support resource use efficiency and trade and market development.
- Integrated technical support to field projects and other programs.
- Human capital development through training and technical assistance to various stakeholders.
To achieve the program objectives, the Agro-Economics team works with a broad range of stakeholders in the planning, analysis and implementation of research and development. The program also provides support to IFDC’s geographic divisions and other programs on issues related to nutrient dynamics, market development and policy dialogue and reform associated with fertilizer products and use efficiency. Therefore, the impact of the program is dependent on effective partnerships with the private sector, local, national and regional partners, and other IFDC programs and field divisions.
The Fertilizer Technology Program (FTP)
The FTP encompasses all research and engineering functions conducted by IFDC related to fertilizer raw materials and fertilizer production. Activities and projects include: mineral resource evaluations; development of new products; production of experimental fertilizer products for greenhouse and field trials; analysis and identification of fertilizer products; bench-, laboratory- and pilot-plant-scale processing studies; process design; enhancement of production efficiency; production cost analyses; environmental and safety assessments; pre-investment analyses; and project management. FTP also provides technical guidance to the developing world concerning the judicious use of indigenous raw material resources, promotes the efficient use of fertilizer raw materials and efficient fertilizer production processes, and advocates the use of safe and environmentally sound inputs products.
In order to provide technical assistance to the developing world, FTP staff conduct or participate in international training programs, workshops and meetings concerning world agriculture, fertilizer use, fertilizer production and fertilizer safety. Technical assistance is also provided by answering requests for information and questions through the Internet, by telephone and through other forms of communication.
Projects and activities are conducted under contract and in collaboration with national and international research and development agencies, fertilizer trade associations, government institutions and fertilizer manufacturers. Many of the projects are conducted on a cost-reimbursable basis. Activities related to providing information and technical assistance to developing countries, promoting the safe and efficient use of fertilizer raw material resources and fertilizers are generally funded through government grants.
Major FTP activities include confidential research programs for several private companies. These programs involve a series of pilot-plant and laboratory research tests to develop new or modified fertilizer products that will increase agricultural productivity. Other research activities are continually reviewed for consideration, including pilot-plant programs, raw materials resource evaluations and fertilizer safety-related studies.
The following are areas of upcoming FTP research:
- Utilization of Indigenous Resources – Research concerning the availability and quantity of fertilizer raw materials with an emphasis on developing countries.
- Characterization and Evaluation of Raw Materials – Research concerning the composition, quality and processing characteristics of fertilizer raw materials.
- Fertilizer Production and Properties – This area addresses numerous requests for information IFDC receives each year, primarily from developing countries with respect to fertilizer production.
- Development of Organic/Inorganic Nutrient Products – Information gathering, research and process development concerning the utilization and combination of organic sources with inorganic sources to produce fertilizer.
- Environmental Issues in Fertilizer Production – Information-gathering and research concerning environmental issues with respect to fertilizer raw materials and fertilizer production.
Research Support Services (RSS)
RSS consists of four units: Analytical Services, Greenhouse Services, Pilot-Plant Production Services and Market Information Services. Each unit offers technical support for RDD’s two major programs, Agro-Economics and Fertilizer Technology.
Analytical Services (AS)
AS provides support to IFDC research and development programs and technical projects by performing analyses on fertilizers, raw materials, minerals, plant materials and soils. Additionally, electronic services support is provided to all IFDC staff members in the areas of instrumentation and electronic equipment. This group repairs IFDC laboratory and pilot-plant instrumentation and IFDC computer and audio-visual equipment.
Greenhouse Services (GS)
GS provides technical expertise and conducts experiments in on-site greenhouses and laboratories. GS staff also may assist in conducting field trials with partner institutions and farmers. The work of the staff includes soil collection, setup and conduct of experiments in IFDC greenhouses and laboratories. IFDC technicians also take measurements during experiments; collect samples of soils, plants and water; and process the data for reporting purposes. The GS staff acts in a “surge” capacity, assisting in fertilizer materials research in laboratories and in the IFDC pilot-plant.
Pilot Plant Production Services (PPPS)
PPPS operates and maintains the on-site IFDC pilot-plant facility. Engineering staff of the Fertilizer Materials Program and PPPS staff conduct research on properties and production of fertilizer materials. IFDC staff conducts research in laboratories and pilot-plants at IFDC headquarters, and occasionally participates in short-term consultancies serving the fertilizer industry worldwide.
Market Information Unit (MIU)
Under contract with notable institutions, MIU serves as a confidential agent to secure sensitive information from fertilizer producers in the United States and Canada and produces industry reports and studies. The unit also engages in research and produces non-contract reports and publications regarding the fertilizer industry. In addition, the staff conducts research and produces data in support of various IFDC studies and contracted projects.