“The soil is the source.” That is the essential connection between micronutrients and agriculture for Dr. Ismail Cakmak, a plant nutrition specialist at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Cakmak has recently joined the Program Committee of the Micronutrient Forum to support the organization in aligning its work with what’s happening in the agricultural sector. “Agriculture delivers micronutrients into the food system.”
Cakmak points to the geographical overlap in micronutrient deficiencies in the population and where soil has been depleted in micronutrients. “Why do we have micronutrient malnutrition? There are many reasons. An important on it that the soils are deficient in plant available micronutrients such as zinc, selenium and iodine. Without a concentration on micronutrients in the food system at the source, where food is grown, we can’t achieve success.”
“On both the supplier and consumer sides of agriculture, we see the opportunity with micronutrients,” says Cakmak. “If we get the micronutrients into the soil and foliage, we can boost crop yields and the micronutrient status of the people consuming the food. Agriculture has an important role to play in reducing micronutrient malnutrition in human populations.”
Cakmak has been part of many studies that have reinforced the importance of micronutrients to crop production and micronutrient levels in the food produced, the so-called “agronomic biofortification” that involves application of micronutrient-containing fertilizers. “In field trials on wheat in six different countries, we’ve seen significant increases in grain micronutrients, including iodine, zinc, selenium and iron, when applied in a cocktail solution to wheat and rice, with no loss in grain yield.”
Biofortification is also an area where Cakmak sees great promise. “Fertilizer strategies and breeding strategies are synergistic and complementary. Combining these strategies result in substantial increases in micronutrient concentration of cereal grains. And we must keep an eye also on stability and bioavailability of the micronutrients in processed foods”
The Micronutrient Forum’s 5th Global Conference, Building New Evidence and Alliances for Improving Nutrition, will look at the complexity of food systems and their interaction with micronutrients across its four programs tracks. The critical role of agriculture in delivering micronutrients into the food system, will be discussed in sessions focusing on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, biofortification and climate change and micronutrients.