Zinc is an essential micronutrient needed by crops and people. Almost half of the world’s cereal crops are deficient in zinc and zinc is the fifth leading risk factor for disease in the developing world.
Research has shown that regions with zinc-deficient soils often produce poor crop yields and widespread zinc deficiency in humans. This was the case in Central Anatolia in Turkey. In 1993, a research project found that yields could be increased by 6 to 8-fold and children nutrition dramatically increased through zinc fertilization.
Through a partnership with Cukurova University, the state and the private company TOROS Agri Industry Group, zinc was added to fertilizers. While the product was initially made available at the same cost, the results were so convincing that Turkish farmers significantly increased the use of the zinc-fortified fertilizer (1 per cent of zinc) within a few short years, despite the repricing of the products to reflect the added value of the content.
Today, nearly 10 years after the identification of the zinc deficiency problem, the total amount of zinc-containing compound fertilizers produced and applied in Turkey reached a record level of 300,000 tonnes per annum. It is estimated that the economic benefits associated with the application of Zn-fertilizers on Zn deficient soils in Turkey is around US$ 100 million per year. Zinc deficiency in children has been dramatically reduced.
Such a policy could be easily replicated around the world in the many zinc-deficient countries. In fact, one-third of the world population is at risk of zinc deficiency, which affects physical growth, the functioning of the immune system, reproductive health and neurobehavioral development, among others.
Preventive zinc supplements are important in reducing infant morbidity from diarrhea and pneumonia. Zinc fertilization is now recognized as a promising strategy to address zinc deficiencies in humans.