The Fast Track project “increased crop productivity and nutritional value” was implemented from October 2011 to November 2013 in Malawi and financed by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) in cooperation with the International Zinc Association (IZA). The scientific rationale for this program stemmed from a publication from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in which it has been estimated that 50% of the world’s agricultural soils are deficient in zinc, and that this is seen as a limiting factor for crop production, particularly in cereal-cultivation regions (Cakmak, Plant and Soil, 2008). This factor aimed to increase maize and legume crop production in areas where soils are identified as zinc deficient and to demonstrate the economic benefits of the increased productivity induced by zinc supplementation via fertilization of crops.
Seven extension planning areas were identified as low zinc sites and planted with hybrid maize. Pilot demonstration plots were prepared and field trials implemented. Maize seeds and fertilizer were then provided to the 40 farmers participating in the project. Crop harvest results showed that maize production increased on average by 27% with the application of 2% zinc in the fertilizer. For example, at one location yields were recorded at 4.98Kgs per hectare when no zinc was applied and 7.85kgs when 2% zinc was applied. Planting for the second project season has been conducted with similar doses of zinc-containing fertilizer and data on crop productivity from the July 2013 harvest confirmed the trend on crop yield increase under application of 2% zinc in fertilizers. Results from the project have shown that use of zinc fortified fertilizers increased maize yields. Application of zinc-fortified fertilizers also increased the availability of zinc for uptake by humans, which can in-turn boost the growth and development of children and assist in the fight against diseases. Nevertheless, it was also learnt that grains do not keep enough nutrients that can be transferred to the next generation grain as most is used up during the germination process. Following the dissemination of project findings, the Government of Malawi recognized the important role of zinc in nutrition in the National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan. It is therefore expected that project outcomes will incentivize farmers to apply zinc in their fertilizing practices.
The project Final Dissemination Meeting was held on September 25th 2013 in Lilongwe, Malawi. More detailed information regarding the results of the project may be obtained from the IZA at www.zinc.org