To discuss the pressing issues of the sector such as micronutrient deficiency and its effect on agriculture and human health, International Zinc Association – leading industry association dedicated exclusively to the interests of zinc in partnership with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and assistance of Rio Tinto, organized a virtual meet on ‘Micronutrient Fertilisers for Food and Nutrition Security’. It was based on the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations’ theme of ‘International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021’, with the main motive to underscore the significance of micronutrient fertilisers, including Zinc fertilisers in the horticultural crops for food and nutrition security, wherein creative and new generation fertilisers, like fortified, specialty and water soluble fertilisers were discussed. All the members from CII and other institutions were present.

At the meet, Dr Andrew Green – executive director, IZA (USA) stated- “For the agricultural sector to develop, not only does the farm production and productivity need improvement but the quality of output also needs surveillance simultaneously. Adding micronutrients such as zinc have not only proven to boost crop yield and water uptake but also delivers healthier, stronger crops.”

He further said- “For accomplishing the greater goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations that aims to abolish hunger, poverty and malnutrition by 2030 by the signatory countries, including India, a favourable and conducive micronutrient policy is unavoidable for ensuring the food, nutrition and health security of the nation. We hope that the government takes cognizance of these recommendations to address the widespread zinc deficiency.”

With the mission to encourage and upscale a healthy lifestyle and build immunity, FAO declared 2021 as the ‘International year of fruits and vegetables’. Fruits and Vegetables are considered to be a rich source of nutrients in human health. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and eaten has only been further stressed. However, most soils worldwide are facing multi-micronutrient deficiencies, dominated by zinc (Zn) and boron (B). This is detrimentally affecting the yield and quality of crops. The scenario in India is also very similar and the Indian soils are mainly deficient in Zinc, Boron along with other micronutrients like Iron, Manganese, and Copper etc. India too is a zinc deficient country and about 37% soil samples analyzed for available zinc have been found deficient that ultimately leads to zinc deficiency and results in micronutrient malnutrition. The prime causes for micronutrient deficiencies are intensified agricultural practices, imbalanced fertilizer application including NPK, depletion of nutrients and no replenishment.

Emphasizing the need for a firm infrastructure in soil testing along with the need to address the micronutrient deficiency, Dr Ashok Dalwai – CEO, NRAA and Chairman, Task Force, Doubling Farmers Income (PMO), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, GoI, asserted- “Absence of micronutrient like Zinc and Boron has been shown to have a direct influence on the crop output. The way forward is to bolster the backward linkages like the infrastructure upgradation of soil testing, creation of awareness amongst relevant stakeholders, policy re-design and most sugnificantly the research and development that gets deployed into creation of micronutrient fertilizers. We are determined to achieve these targets in the coming years.”

The sessions held in leadership of CII and other policy makers shed light on the requirement for a holistic policy for micronutrients. Some major discussion points included New & Innovative Micronutrient Fertilisers – Zinc & Boron Innovation; Fortification in bulk fertilisers with special reference to SSP; Micronutrients in Specialty & Water Soluble Fertilisers; Micronutrient Fortification in Urea; Importance of Micronutrients in value addition and exports of horticultural produces; etc.

Dr Soumitra Das, director, South Asia – Zinc Nutrient Initiative, International Zinc Association commented- “Zinc has been witnessed as the most widespread micronutrient deficiency in soils and crops globally, leading to severe yield losses and deterioration in nutritional quality. We have seen an exceptional increase in consumption of zinc fertilisers in India in the last 7-8 years. With modifications in policy initiatives and increased awareness, we can make headwinds in popularizing micronutrients in balanced fertilizer use across sectors.”

Meetu Kapur, executive director, CII Food and Agriculture Center of Excellence stated- “The programme gains relevance given that amongst the multitude of challenges that agriculture faces, worldwide deterioration of soil health is a major concern. The significance of micronutrients needs to be seen from a food systems approach and a holistic approach is necessart for developing sustainable micronutrient supply systems via interactions/discussions amongst the stakeholders. It is good to see experts in-line with the thought and we’re optimistic that the recommendations will aid in developing a roadmap to overcome the obstacles being faced in the sector.”

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