New Project Launched to Address Micronutrient Deficiencies in Humans through Crop Fertilization



Paris, France, 28 October 2014 - The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) is pleased to announce continued support to the HarvestZinc Fertilizer Project, which will further explore how best to address micronutrient deficiencies in humans through crop fertilization practices in Brazil, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and South Africa in major staple food crops. 
Initially launched in 2008, this third phase of the HarvestZinc Fertilizer Project seeks to improve zinc fertilization practices to further increase zinc density in grain. In addition to zinc, this phase will also address other essential micronutrients, such as iron, iodine and selenium, whose deficiencies affect billions of people worldwide. Zinc deficiency is the most common of all such deficiency and affects the health of at least 1/3 of the world population. 1.5 million children die each year from zinc deficiency induced diarrhea. 

“Plant nutrition is a crucial factor for addressing food and nutrition security. Not only do plant nutrients increase crop yields to help meet burgeoning food demand, but fertilizers that include micronutrients essential to humans can also be an effective tool to eradicate certain forms of malnutrition,” states IFA President, Ms Esin Mete, CEO of Toros Agri in Turkey who pioneered efforts in Turkey to eradicate zinc deficiency through crop fertilization. 

Zinc is a key micronutrient, both for crops and human health. Regions with a high incidence of zinc deficient soils are also characterized by widespread zinc deficiency in human populations with dramatic health consequences. “Zinc fertilization is an impressive success story in combating malnutrition and should be replicated worldwide as 50% of the world’s cereal-cultivated soils are zinc deficient, and recent estimates indicate that at least two billion people are also zinc deficient”, points Ismail Cakmak, Professor at Sabanci Univeristy and coordinator of the HarvestZinc Project. 

In order to scale up best management practices for enrichment of grains with zinc, IFA has been supporting the HarvestZinc Fertilizer Project since its onset. Results of the first two phases have shown that foliar application is highly effective to raise the zinc content of crops. They have also shown that a doubling in grain zinc concentrations can be achieved, in particular in wheat. In addition, it has clearly demonstrated that enrichment of seeds with zinc has very positive effects on seed germination and seedling vigor. There was no adverse effect on grain zinc when zinc was sprayed on leaves together with insecticides or fungicides. The third phase aims at further improving zinc fertilization practices in 7 countries, and at testing cocktails of micronutrients to also increase grain density in iron, iodine and selenium for two major staple food crops wheat and rice. Experiments have been planned to demonstrate that a fertilizer strategy is needed for improving and maximizing the success of plant breeding programs aiming at increasing grain zinc.  It will build on successful experiences, such as that of selenium in Finland. 

In parallel, IFA has decided to co-sponsor another project focusing solely on iodine fertilization in partnership with one of its members, the Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM) and a large food company in order to improve the state of knowledge in this very little studied research field.

Good nutrition not only extends and improves the quality of people’s lives but also plays a significant role in boosting their productivity and in sustaining a healthy economy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that malnutrition alone costs the global economy around $3.5 trillion dollars each year (around 5% of global GDP) due to lost productivity and healthcare costs. 

The fertilizer industry feels that it has a key contribution and responsibility in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. “Fertilizers can not only provide sufficient food by increasing yields but also nutritious food, rich with micronutrients that are most needed by children”, says Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA’s Director General. To this end, the fertilizer industry was the first business group to endorse the United Nations’ Zero Hunger Challenge and has been lobbying actively for micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition to be recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The industry follows the FAO’s goal of eradicating hunger in our lifetime and the High Level Task Force on Food Security’s to eliminate stunting. The fertilizer industry is hopeful that after zinc, agronomic biofortification of other micronutrients, such as iodine or selenium, will be the industry’s next human health success story. 


Notes to editors

The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) is a trade association representing the global fertilizer industry, which provides the crop nutrients that allow farmers everywhere to meet the world's growing food, feed, fiber and bioenergy needs in a sustainable manner. IFA member companies represent all activities related to the production and distribution of every type of fertilizer, their raw materials and intermediates. IFA’s membership also includes organizations involved in agronomic research and training. IFA has some 550 members in about 86 countries. 

The HarvestZinc Fertilizer Project has been developed under HarvestPlus Program to explore and test fertilizer use to improve the Zn concentration of various staple food crops, particularly wheat and rice. Application of Zn-containing fertilizers (agronomic biofortification) offers a rapid solution to the problem, and represents an important complementary approach to genetic solutions via plant breeding. 

Media Contacts

Ms. Morgane Danielou, Director - Communications & Public Affairs

International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA)
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