Fertilizer Means Food: Improving Human Nutrition

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July 1, 2014

Food security goes beyond just having enough food. For people around the world to be truly healthy, they need access to a balanced diet that includes all of the essential nutrients – primary, secondary and micronutrients. We get the majority of our nutrients from the food we eat. Our food, in turn, gets its nutrients from the soil, but often what’s in the soil simply isn’t enough. That’s where fertilizer comes in.

Fertilizer helps farmers produce increasing quantities of food to meet the global population’s caloric needs, but it also improves the overall quality of food to fight worldwide malnutrition.

When fertilizer is used according to the principles of 4R nutrient stewardship, applying the fertilizer right source at the right rate, time and place, it directly contributes to the health of humanity by improving access to essential nutrients.

One way to dramatically fight worldwide malnutrition is by targeting essential micronutrients that are critical for the human body, including zinc, selenium and boron. According to the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), micronutrient deficiencies affect approximately 2 billion people worldwide.

Let’s take a closer look at one of these micronutrients: zinc. Recognized as the world’s most critical micronutrient deficiency in crops, zinc only occurs naturally in 50 percent of the world’s arable soils.

According to IPNI, approximately one-third of the world’s human population is deficient in zinc. In addition, the World Health Organization attributes 800,000 worldwide deaths each year to zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency causes major health problems including impairments in brain function and mental development, immune system impairment, delays in physical development and susceptibility to deadly infectious diseases.

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General said, “Zinc is a life-saving commodity.” Along with vitamin A, zinc has been identified as the most cost-effective solution to malnutrition. Additional zinc fertilization would be a simple, affordable and sustainable solution to raise crop yields and improve nutrition around the world.

Fertilizer already plays a large role in supporting human health by providing essential micronutrients, but the opportunity to expand it even further is substantial. Zinc fertilization is only one example of how fertilizer can be used to improve the lives of people all around the world.

In 2013, the IPNI, along with the International Fertilizer Industry Association, produced a peer-reviewed report, “Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health: A Scientific Review,” which includes recommendations for developing and promoting new fertilizer recommendations aimed at alleviating worldwide food and nutrition deficiencies. IPNI’s report is now available for download, along with infographics that showcase fertilizer’s expanding role in improving nutrient availability in the world’s food supply.

As the world’s population grows, the role of fertilizer in facilitating access to a balanced diet through essential nutrients will become even more essential.