Global Nutrient Fight


What: Lecture and debate
When: 10th December, 19.30
Where: Forum, Grand Café

In the final lecture of the Incredible Micronutrient series, Wouter van der Weijden and Ellis Hoffland discussed Geopolitics and Micronutrients. Wouter described how the EU can

Wouter, a biologist and consultant at CLM, discussed the global scarcity of macro and micronutrients. He explained that scarcity does not refer to an absolute disappearance of a nutrient; it means that the supply is depleted, diluted and more difficult to recover. Scarcity is calculated as the total quantity of resources of a mineral, divided by its annual production. However, assessing scarcity is more complicated than this simple calculation. The reserve quantity is the portion of resources that can be extracted profitably and is subject to market price fluctuations. Resource and reserve quantities are calculated by a single source, US Geological Survey, and their accuracy has recently been questioned.become less vulnerable to the risk of nutrient scarcity. Ellis explained how research is addressing the connection between zinc deficiencies in soil and humans.

When more than half of reserves are concentrated in only one or a few countries, cartels can be formed to artificially inflate prices. Countries without their own reserves are dependent on imports to support industry. Options for Europe, with limited nutrient reserves of its own, to be less vulnerable to the risk of scarcity include: increasing efficiencies of nutrient use; nutrient recycling; substituting micronutrients wherever possible; and forming partnerships with other vulnerable countries. There were several questions for Wouter regarding nutrient recycling, existing cooperations between countries and the effects of price increases on different stakeholders.

Ellis is a professor in the Soil Quality Department at Wageningen University, where she researches the role of zinc in soil quality and human health. She explained that 61% of people in developing countries and 10% in developed countries suffer from zinc deficiencies. Zinc deficiencies in humans, which can cause stunted growth, immune system malfunction and other severe health effects, are linked to zinc deficiencies in plants. One third of the world’s soil is estimated to be low in zinc, or its zinc is in the solid phase, which cannot be taken up by plants. Soils low in zinc may not be able to support plant growth at all, and the plants that do grow will also have low zinc concentrations.

Some soils bind zinc to the solid phase so quickly that zinc-enriched fertilizer is not a viable solution. Some other options include: spraying zinc solution directly on leaves; a soil-mapping program that would identify where fertilizer can be added successfully; and plant genotypes which secrete a compound from their roots that makes zinc available to the plant. The compound breaks down too quickly to be added to fertilizers, but more genotypes that secrete this compound are being researched. Other plants grown close to these genotypes also benefit from increased zinc uptake. Additionally, plants should be low in phytate, which binds to zinc and cannot be absorbed by humans.

In a final debate on whether nutrient scarcity is a threat or an opportunity, both Wouter and Ellis agreed that it is only a threat when we are unaware of the problem. If we continue to explore these issues and make them greater priorities, we will discover many opportunities for innovation.


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