The countries of the world's humid tropical regions lack the soil fertility necessary for high agricultural productivity. A recently developed agricultural technology that increases soil fertility can make tropical agriculture highly productive, but the technique requires large inputs into the soil of phosphorus and other fertilizers and soil amendments.
Use of fertilizers derived from phosphate rock is increasing greatly throughout the world, and fertilizer raw materials are being produced more and more frequently from phosphate rock deposits close to the areas of use. An increased understanding of the origin of phosphate rock in ancient oceans has enabled exploration geologists to target areas of potential mineral resource value and to search directly for deposits. However, because of the difficulty of prospecting for mineral deposits in forested tropical regions, phosphate rock deposits are not being explored for in the countries of the humid tropics, including most countries of the Caribbean region. As a result, the countries of the Caribbean must import phosphate rock or phosphorus fertilizer products. In the present trade market, imports of phosphate are too low for the initiation of new agricultural technology in the Caribbean and Central American region.
A newly proposed program of discovery and development of undiscovered phosphate rock deposits revolves around reconnaissance studies, prospecting by core drilling, and analysis of bulk samples. The program should increase the chance of discovering economic phosphate rock deposits. The search for and evaluation of phosphate rock resources in the countries of the Caribbean region would take about 5 years and cost an average of $15 million per country. The program is designed to begin with high risk-low cost steps and end with low risk-high cost steps.
A successful program could improve the foreign exchange positions of countries in the Caribbean region by adding earnings from agricultural product exports and by substituting domestically produced phosphate rock and fertilizer products for imported phosphate fertilizers. A successful program also could provide enough domestically produced phosphorus fertilizer products to allow initiation of new agricultural technology in the region and thus increase domestic food production. Finally, a new phosphorus fertilizer industry would create new jobs in the mining, chemical, and transportation industries of the Caribbean region.
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USGS Numbered Series
Undiscovered phosphate resources in the Caribbean region and their potential value for agricultural development