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Agronomic biofortification increases grain zinc concentration of maize grown under contrasting soil types in Malawi

Botoman, Lester; Chimungu, Joseph G.; Bailey, Elizabeth H.; Munthali, Moses W.; Ander, E. Louise; Mossa, Abdul‐Wahab; Young, Scott D.; Broadley, Martin R.; Lark, R. Murray; Nalivata, Patson C.

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Lester Botoman

Joseph G. Chimungu

Professor of Environmental Geochemistry

Moses W. Munthali

E. Louise Ander

Abdul‐Wahab Mossa

Scott D. Young

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Professor of Geoinformatics

Patson C. Nalivata


Zinc (Zn) deficiency remains a public health problem in Malawi, especially among poor and marginalized rural populations, linked with low dietary intake of Zn due to consumption of staple foods that are low in Zn content. The concentration of Zn in staple cereal grain can be increased through application of Zn‐enriched fertilizers, a process called agronomic biofortification or agro‐fortification. Field experiments were conducted at three Agricultural Research Station sites to assess the potential of agronomic biofortification to improve Zn concentration in maize grain in Malawi as described in registered report published previously. The hypotheses of the study were (i) that application of Zn‐enriched fertilizers would increase in the concentration of Zn in maize grain to benefit dietary requirements of Zn and (ii) that Zn concentration in maize grain and the effectiveness of agronomic biofortification would be different between soil types. At each site two different subsites were used, each corresponding to one of two agriculturally important soil types of Malawi, Lixisols and Vertisols. Within each subsite, three Zn fertilizer rates (1, 30, and 90 kg ha−1) were applied to experimental plots, using standard soil application methods, in a randomized complete block design. The experiment had 10 replicates at each of the three sites as informed by a power analysis from a pilot study, published in the registered report for this experiment, designed to detect a 10% increase in grain Zn concentration at 90 kg ha−1, relative to the concentration at 1 kg ha−1. At harvest, maize grain yield and Zn concentration in grain were measured, and Zn uptake by maize grain and Zn harvest index were calculated. At 30 kg ha−1, Zn fertilizer increased maize grain yields by 11% compared with nationally recommended application rate of 1 kg ha−1. Grain Zn concentration increased by 15% and uptake by 23% at the application rate of 30 kg ha−1 relative to the national recommendation rate. The effects of Zn fertilizer application rate on the response variables were not dependent on soil type. The current study demonstrates the importance of increasing the national recommendation rate of Zn fertilizer to improve maize yield and increase the Zn nutritional value of the staple crop.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 17, 2022
Online Publication Date Nov 3, 2022
Publication Date 2022-11
Deposit Date Jan 4, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 5, 2023
Journal Plant Direct
Electronic ISSN 2475-4455
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 11
Article Number e458
Keywords agro‐fortification, Lixisols, maize, Vertisols, zinc deficiency, zinc‐enriched fertilizers
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Agronomic biofortification increases grain zinc concentration of maize grown under contrasting soil types in Malawi (2.9 Mb)

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This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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