2016 Conference: Dana Cordell


The Circular Economy to Food Security

29-30 August 2016, Canberra

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Dr Dana Cordell
Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Technology Sydney) and Co-founder, Global Phosphorus Research Initiative

Dana CordellDana Cordell leads and undertakes international and Australian research projects on sustainable food and resource futures. Many projects involve high-level stakeholder engagement to improve the policy relevance and impact, and foster mutual-learning. Dr Cordell leads the collaborative P-FUTURES project across Australia, Vietnam, Malawi and the U.S., which together with local stakeholders, aims to identify how urban food systems can cope or transform in response to the emerging global phosphorus challenge.

In 2008, Dr Cordell co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative—the first global platform to undertake research, policy and public engagement to ensure food systems are resilient to the emerging global challenge of phosphorus scarcity. Dr Cordell currently leads the Mapping Sydney’s Potential Foodsheds project, which brings together key stakeholders such as NSW Farmers, Department of Primary Industries, Department of Planning and RDA-Sydney. The project aims to increase the resilience of Sydney’s food system to global and local challenges (from climate change to urban growth) through participatory stakeholder workshops and geospatial mapping scenarios.

As a global food security expert, Dr Cordell provides expert advice and commentary to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Australia’s Chief Scientist and the UK Parliament. She most recently joined UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook team as a global food security contributor. Dr Cordell’s research contributions have led to numerous prestigious recognitions, including one of Australia’s top science prizes, the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research (2012). She has also held positions in the 100 Women of Influence (AFR/Westpac, 2013) and Top 100 Most Influential People (Sydney Magazine, 2012). She is frequently interviewed for media, including Radio National, ABC Lateline and London’s The Times.

Towards Global Phosphorus Security through Nutrient Reuse


Whilst not widely recognised, the reuse of phosphorus will be crucial to achieving future food security, supporting farmer livelihoods and buffering against emerging geopolitical risks.

All farmers need access to phosphorus fertilisers to grow crops, yet just five countries control 85% of the world’s main source—phosphate rock. Morocco alone controls three-quarters of the world’s remaining phosphate. These phosphate reserves are non-renewable, and becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. Already one in six farmers can’t access fertiliser markets. The 800% phosphate price spike in 2008 demonstrated the vulnerability of global and local food systems to even a short-term disruption in supply. At the same time, a staggering 80% of phosphorus is lost or wasted in the supply chain between mine, farm and fork. Much of this ends up in rivers and lakes leading to widespread nutrient pollution and algal blooms.

The good news is, phosphorus can be recovered and reused from all organic sources in the food system—food waste, human excreta, manure, crop waste. Indeed, there are over 50 low- to high-tech solutions. However phosphorus vulnerability is very context-specific, and what works in one country may be inappropriate or ineffective in another region. This case study highlights a path forward, including examples from Vietnam, Malawi and Australia. Investing in phosphorus reuse creates locally available ‘renewable fertilisers’, which simultaneously reduces dependence on imports from geopolitically risky regions, therefore buffering against future price spikes and supply disruptions; reducing phosphorus waste in the food supply chain; and reducing the risk of nutrient pollution.