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Healthy soils, healthy lives: Nutrient deficiencies affect approximately 2 billion people worldwide

Infographic | 06-07-2017

Whereas hunger affects 800,000 people worldwide, malnutrition, or nutrient deficiencies, affects a much larger population. Nutrient deficient soils are one of the major causes of low crop productivity and may affect low nutritional quality of produce. Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread in Africa and have profound societal effects.

One of the causes of dietary nutrient deficiency is a lack of nutrients in the soil. Healthy soils are important for plant growth and for stimulating agricultural intensification. An important factor among the many that influence soil health is the concentration of the macronutrients and micronutrients that are essential for plant growth. In most African soils, these concentrations are low, prompting a renewed focus on the limitations imposed by the lack of micronutrients, such as zinc and boron.

Several options are available to remedy the situation, the most interesting of which are the application of fertilisers, breeding new plant varieties and providing food supplements. The most effective policy response – addressing both low crop yield and malnutrition – is likely to be a mix of these three, though the weight of each may differ substantially from one country to another depending on the severity of the local problems.


Source data

Black RE, Victoria CG, Walker SP, Bhutta ZA, Christian P, De Onis M, Ezzati M, Grantham-McGregor S, Katz J, Martorell R and Uauy R. (2013). Maternal and Child Undernutrition and Overweight in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries. The Lancet 382: 427–51

Hengl T, Leenaars JGB, Shepherd KD, Walsh MG, Heuvelink GBM, Mamo T, Tilahun H, Berkhout E, Cooper M, Fegraus E, Wheeler I and Kwabena NA. (submitted). Soil nutrient maps of Sub-Saharan Africa: assessment of soil nutrient content at 250 m spatial resolution using machine learning. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems.

PBL (2015). Scoping study DGIS-Resource Efficiency project. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague.

USGS (2014). Minerals yearbook: Zinc. United States Geological Survey. Available from:  https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/zinc/myb1-2014-zinc.pdf

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