There is a need to reorient fertilizer policy to align with micronutrient usage: says Dr. Ashok Dalwai at International Zinc Association (IZA) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) roundtable

New Delhi: To discuss the pressing issues of the sector such as micronutrient deficiency and its impact on agriculture and human health, International Zinc Association – leading industry association dedicated exclusively to the interests of zinc in collaboration with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and support of Rio Tinto, organized a virtual roundtable today on ‘Micronutrient Fertilizers for Food and Nutrition Security’. The roundtable was based on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’ theme of ‘International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021’, with the key objective to highlight the importance of micronutrient fertilizers, including Zinc fertilizers in the horticultural crops for food and nutrition security, wherein innovative and new generation fertilizers, like fortified, specialty and water soluble fertilizers were discussed.

The roundtable was addressed by Dr. Ashok Dalwai – Chief Executive Officer, NRAA & Chairman, Task Force, Doubling Farmers Income (PMO), Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, GoI; Dr. S.K. Malhotra, Agricultural Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, GoI; Mr. Sridhar Dharmapuri – Group Leader, Agriculture and Food Systems, FAO of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand; along with notable speakers including Mr. Vikram Merchant – Country Head, Rio Tinto; Mr. Colin Thomson – General Manager – Sales (Americas & EIMEA), Rio Tinto Borates, USA; Dr. Cleiton de Sequeira – Global Market Development Manager – Agriculture, Rio Tinto Borates, USA; Ms. Meetu Kapur – Executive Director, CII’s Food & Agriculture Center of Excellence (FACE); Dr. Andrew Green – Executive Director, IZA, USA; Dr. Soumitra Das – Director, South Asia – Zinc Nutrient Initiative, IZA; Dr. A.N. Ganeshamurthy – Emeritus Scientist, Former Dean, CAU and Head, SSAC, ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research and Dr. A.K. Shukla – Project Coordinator (Micronutrients), ICAR-Indian Institute of Soil Science, amongst others. All industry leaders emphasized the need for a favourable and conducive micronutrient fertilizer policy that will ensure the food, nutrition and health security of the country.


Speaking at the roundtable, Dr. Andrew Green – Executive Director, IZA (USA) said, “For the agricultural sector to grow, not only does the farm production and productivity need improvement but the quality of output needs to be looked at simultaneously. Adding micronutrients such as zinc have not only proven to enhance crop yield and water uptake but also results in healthier, stronger crops.”


He further added, “In order to achieve the greater objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations that aims to eradicate hunger, poverty and malnutrition by 2030 by the signatory countries, including India, a favourable and conducive micronutrient policy is inevitable for ensuring the food, nutrition and health security of the country. We are hopeful that the government takes cognizance of these recommendations to address the widespread zinc deficiency. ”


With the objective to promote and advance healthy lifestyle and build immunity, FAO announced 2021 as the “International year of fruits and vegetables”. Fruits and Vegetables are considered 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 consumed has only been further stressed. However, most soils globally are witnessing multi-micronutrient deficiencies, dominated by zinc (Zn) and boron (B). This is adversely impacting yield and quality of crops. The scenario in India is no different and the Indian soils are primarily deficient in Zinc, Boron along with other micronutrients like Iron, Manganese, and Copper etc. India too is a zinc deficient country and about 37 per cent soil samples analysed for available zinc have been found deficient that subsequently leads to zinc deficiency in humans resulting in micronutrient malnutrition. The major causes for micronutrient deficiencies are intensified agricultural practices, imbalanced fertilizer application including NPK, depletion of nutrients and no replenishment.


Highlighting the need for a robust infrastructure in soil testing along with the need to address the micronutrient deficiency, Dr Ashok Dalwai – Chief Executive Officer, NRAA & Chairman, Task Force, Doubling Farmers Income (PMO), Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, GoI, said, “Absence of micronutrient like Zinc and Boron has been shown to have a direct impact on the crop output. The way forward is to strengthen the backward linkages such as the infrastructure upgradation of soil testing, creation of awareness amongst relevant stakeholders, policy redesign and most importantly the research & development that gets deployed into creation of micronutrient fertilizers. We are committed to achieving these targets in the years to come. ”


The sessions with policy makers threw light on the need for a holistic policy for micronutrients. Some of the key discussion points included New and Innovative Micronutrient Fertilizers – Zinc & Boron Innovation; Fortification in bulk fertilizers with special reference to SSP; Micronutrients in Specialty & Water Soluble Fertilizers; Micronutrient Fortification in Urea; Importance of Micronutrients in value addition and exports of Horticultural produces; to name a few.


Commenting on the virtual discussion, Dr. Soumitra Das, Director, South Asia – Zinc Nutrient Initiative, International Zinc Association said, “Zinc has emerged as the most widespread micronutrient deficiency in soils and crops worldwide, resulting in severe yield losses and deterioration in nutritional quality. We have seen a remarkable increase in consumption of zinc fertilizers in India in the last 7-8 year. With changes in policy initiatives and increased awareness, we can make headwinds in popularizing micronutrients in balanced fertilizer use across sectors.”


Addressing the audience, Ms. Meetu Kapur, Executive Director, CII Food and Agriculture Center of Excellence Said, “The program gains relevance given that amongst the multitude of challenges that agriculture faces globally deterioration of soil health is a key concern. The importance of micronutrients needs to be viewed from a food systems approach and a holistic approach is needed for developing sustainable micronutrient supply systems through interactions/ discussions amongst the stakeholders. It is heartening to see experts in-line with the thought and we’re hopeful that the recommendations will help develop a roadmap to overcome the challenges faced in the sector.”