Dr. Abdul Rashid
Micronutrient Fertilizer Use, New Fertilizer Technologies, Agricultural Opportunities and Plant Nutrient Challenges in Pakistan
IFA: Last year you prepared a comprehensive status report on Micronutrient Fertilizer Use in Pakistan. Can you give us an insight into micronutrient fertilizer use in the country?
Dr. Abdul Rashid: Most Pakistani soils under crop production are inherently low in certain micronutrients, especially zinc (Zn), boron (B), and iron (Fe). In 1969 after being identified as the cause of ‘Hadda’ disease, Zn fertilizer was recommended for rice, with subsequent adoption in wheat, corn, potatoes, citrus, and deciduous fruits. In the 1990s B fertilizer was recommended in cotton due to a widespread deficiency. Severe yield and quality losses saw it being adopted for rice in the 2000s, and on a number of other crops since. The incidence of Fe chlorosis in susceptible crops, such as peanut, chickpea, citrus and deciduous fruits was well recognized in 1980s. Since then, foliar sprays of Fe-sequestrene have been recommended.
Despite cost-effective yield increases with these micronutrients, their use by growers remains inadequate compared with the actual requirement – even with Zn fertilizer use in rice. This ongoing situation is causing huge losses in productivity, produce quality, and farmer income. In the “Micronutrient Fertilizer Use in Pakistan: Historical Perspective and 4R Nutrient Stewardship” status report we demonstrated that the potential fertilizer requirement for B is 22-times, and for Zn 5-times, of their current levels of use in the country. Obviously, a lot needs to be done to scale up the use of micronutrient fertilizers, including enhancing stakeholder awareness and the availability of quality fertilizer products.
IFA: Your farmer-friendly fertilizer use technologies have been widely recommended and adapted in Pakistan. Are there any new fertilizer use technologies that you think the country could benefit from adopting?
Dr. Abdul Rashid
: I believe that soil fertility and crop nutrition R&D programs in developing countries must cater to farmer-friendly nutrient management technologies to cost-effectively sustain crop and soil productivity. Our consistent R&D and effective advocacy, since the mid 1980s, created a ‘pull force’ for micronutrient fertilizers in Pakistan. My group’s farmer-friendly fertilizer use technologies adapted by the growers are: (i) Boron fertilizer use in rice; (ii) Boron and Zn fertilizer use in cotton; (iii) Zinc-enriched rice nursery; and (iv) 50% P fertilizer saving by its band placement in wheat.
To my understanding, the new fertilizer use technologies required include: (i) Enhancing Zn, Fe and iodine density and bioavailability in staple cereal grains through foliar feeding to address ‘hidden hunger’; (ii) Slow release nitrogen (N) fertilizer products to improve their use efficiency; (iii) Strategies to enhance phosphorus (P) use efficiency; and (v) Effective soil testing methods for predicting the potassium (K) fertilizer needs of crops and cropping systems in dominant soil types.
IFA:What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities within agriculture in Pakistan right now?
Dr. Abdul Rashid
: Since 1961, the population of Pakistan has increased 4.2-fold, and its wheat, rice and corn production 6.5 times, thanks to the adoption of R&D-driven high yield-potential crop varieties and fertilizers, along with irrigation. Currently, the country is self sufficient or surplus in wheat, rice, cotton and sugar but still a big importer of edible oils and pulses. As the agricultural land is not expandable, arable land per capita has been reduced drastically over the years. Another worry for sustainable agriculture is rapid urbanization: enormous amounts of nutrients are constantly being transported from rural areas to urban settlements; this process is irreversible. The urgent need is to enhance crop productivity (per unit field area) of oilseeds and pulses – along with other crops – in the face of shrinking arable land per capita and climate change impacts. The task is challenging, but achievable with science-driven, innovative agriculture.
IFA: Are there any soil or plant nutrition research areas (in Pakistan, Asia or worldwide) that you feel require attention?
Dr. Abdul Rashid
: Some salient plant nutrition challenges in arid to semi-arid calcareous soils regions (in Pakistan, Asia and elsewhere) are low fertilizer use efficiency for N and P and negligible use of K fertilizer – despite heavy K mining of soils by crop plants. For sustaining soil-crop productivity, the need is to strive for cropping system-based integrated plant nutrient management, by employing fertilizer products and organic sources (i.e., farm yard manure, crop residues, biofertilizers, etc.) and bringing back leguminous crops in the cropping systems. In short, crop nutrition research areas requiring future attention include cropping system based optimization of N, P and K fertilizers in the context of integrated nutrient management.
About Dr. Abdul Rashid
Dr. Abdul Rashid is a highly accomplished crop nutritionist and a distinguished soil fertility expert. His 40-year career has been devoted to well-conceived research programmes for optimizing crop nutrition through balanced and efficient fertilizer use, applicable to the world’s calcareous soils. Dr. Rashid received the 2017 IPNI Science Award and is a former IFA Norman Borlaug Award winner.
Read more about his achievements in the latest IFA Fertilizers & Agriculture newsletter.