With the world facing another potentially devastating catastrophe – apart from the current Covid-19 pandemic – in the form of global warming, efforts to address this are slowly gaining urgency among world leaders.
According to experts, one of the serious and threatening consequences of the global warming phenomenon is going to be severe droughts which will result in massive global food shortage.
This is going to be exacerbated by the growing global population which is expected to hit the 9 billion mark by 2050 according to the United Nations (UN) data. A recent UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation report also raises serious concerns about future global capacity to produce sufﬁcient agricultural products to sustain livelihoods and satisfy the ever-growing human population.
But according to the study of the North-West University (NWU) master’s graduate Bongiwe Dhlamini, this can be averted if the world can begin to take adopt certain practices to maintain the quality and integrity of the soil.
Dhlamini has, through her study, been able to unearth a treasure trove of vital knowledge and information about what can be done to increase agricultural productivity while maintaining good soil quality and land.
Titled “Sulphate-supplemented NPK nano-fertilizer and its effect on maize growth”, Dhlamini’s study closely examined the soil on the NWU‘s Mahikeng campus to determine its suitability for growing maize (Zea mays L.), and found that it lacks sulphur, which helps to condition the soil and also reduces its sodium content. The plants that grow in a soil that is deficient in sulphur display yellowing or pale green colouring.
She said sulphur deﬁciency in soil has been repeatedly articulated in the agricultural sector as it limits protein biosynthesis and chlorophyll content, thereby limiting crop production.
Dhlamini, who was supervised by Professor Lebo Seru from the chemistry department, said her choice for maize was motivated by the fact that it is one of the essential cereal crops for food security worldwide and that it depends on sufficient sulphur for good growth.
She said the agricultural inputs such as inorganic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) fertilizers have been proven to increase crop productivity by approximately 60%. However, Dhlamini said she is aware that the use of inorganic fertilisers has also been reported to promote environmental problems such as soil salinity and degradation and water pollution.
But she said he study has shown that the use of sulphate-supplemented NPK fertilizer (NPKS) nano-fertilizer treatment increased the plant height, number of leaves, and chlorophyll content of maize. The results also indicate that incorporating sulphur into the NPK and nano-formulated NPKS seems to have the potential characteristics for effective, productive maize and sustainable agricultural activities.
Said Dhlamini: “Nano-fertilizers represent a paradigm shift in agriculture, especially for maize production. They have increased surface area and higher reactivity, which is one characteristic that makes nano-fertilizers potentially affordable for the farmer since they can be applied at lower rates than normal fertilizers.”
In addition, she said, it is important to have different nano-fertilizer compositions for each soil type to increase crop production and reduce the usage of chemical fertilizers.