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Zinc Fortification in Indian Soils, to Supplement Zinc Deficiency in Human Body

Approximately 2 billion people still remain at the risk of Zinc deficiency in the world. Soil bio-fortification is a simple and effective solution to correct Zinc deficiency problems in soil that would lead to better crops and address Zinc deficiency in humans. The possible solutions to balance Zinc deficiency in humans may be food supplementation, food fortification or bio-fortification. While the first two solutions can help incorporating Zinc in later stages, bio-fortification of crops (especially cereals) with Zinc – is the best option for alleviating Zinc deficiency, inherently, which can cater to both rural and urban populations.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient for human body. It helps in building healthy cells, regulating hormones, absorbing nutrients, wound healing and boosting immunity. But the sad news is that in spite of proven benefits of Zinc nutrition, approximately 2 billion people still remain at the risk of Zinc deficiency in the world.

Zinc deficiency can lead to stunted growth, poor immune system and impaired physical & neural development among young children. This leads to slow brain function, which might carry on into adulthood. Zinc deficiency makes children prone to diarrhoea & pneumonia, which are the most common causes of death in developing countries, particularly in India.

Zinc deficiency starts with the soil which grows the crops. When the soil is deficient in Zinc, the nutrients in the crops are lower too. The masses eating food grains, grown in Zinc deficient soils receive less Zinc and are therefore at risk of Zinc deficiency.

Plants too need Zinc for normal growth and reproduction. Zinc is required in small but critical concentrations for several key functions like – membrane, photosynthesis, protein synthesis, phytohormone synthesis, seedling vigor, sugar formation and defence against diseases.

Zinc deficiency predominantly affects the residents of the countries like India, China, Pakistan, Turkey etc., where soil is low in Zinc, and cereals are the major source of calorie intake.

According to International Zinc Association, 26% of India’s population is at the risk of Zinc deficiency. With India’s current population of around 1.25 billion, a total of 312 million people are deficient of Zinc in India.

If the current trend continues, Zinc deficiency in soils is projected to increase from the present level of 50% to an estimated 63% by 2025 bringing an alarming situation in agriculture.

The possible solutions to balance Zinc deficiency in humans may be food supplementation, food fortification or bio-fortification. While the first two solutions can help incorporating Zinc in later stages, bio-fortification of crops (especially cereals) with Zinc – is the best option for alleviating Zinc deficiency, inherently, which can cater to both rural and urban populations.

Studies by International Journal of Pure and Applied Bioscience have shown that Zinc fortification in fertilizers would strengthen the plants’ ability to use nitrogen & potassium in transformation into yield & protein synthesis. Application of Zinc through compost causes higher phosphorus uptake due to higher availability of the plant nutrients from the soil reservoir and additional quantity of nutrients supplied by compost, compared to direct soil application. It also helps in creating more favourable conditions either through increased solubility in soil solution or by possible stimulation of root absorption.

Urea is the most commonly used fertilizer, comprising more than one third of all fertilizer nutrients consumed globally. Combining Zinc with urea, to form Zincated urea, represents an ideal way to scale up Zinc fertilizer use to increase crop productivity and improve human health through a more balanced nutritional approach through crops.

Scientific evidence shows that agronomic bio-fortification is technically feasible without compromising nutritional value of crops. Different interventions are currently being tested as major solution to minimize Zinc malnutrition in humans. While food fortification and supplementation are being widely applied in some countries, it is yet to be fully scaled up so as to be easily accessible in rural areas of developing countries.

Soil bio-fortification will be self-sustainable as the cost of Zinc fertilizer application is low as compared to yield increase, monetary gains and health benefits. It offers a simple and highly effective solution to correct Zinc deficiency problems in soil that would lead to better crops and address Zinc deficiency in humans.

Once the soil is rich in Zinc, it will benefit all those involved in the supply and consumption chain. From the farmers who will earn better from higher crop yields, to the consumers getting more Zinc in their diets, Zinc fortification will lead to an improved economy with increased food security and healthier lives.

Hindustan Zinc is India’s only and world’s second largest integrated Zinc producer, proudly known as Zinc of India and is all committed to support for improving the Indian soil. Truly, we all have Zinc in our lives…

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Article by- Pavan Kaushik, Head – Corporate Communication, Hindustan Zinc
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