Potassium As A Key Fertilizer In Combating Climate Change And Malnutrition

Pakistan has been facing tremendous setbacks in agriculture production because of climate change.

By Muhammad Yasir Khurshid

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, 2020, Pakistan is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change and has paid a cost of nearly 10 thousand lives and 3.7 billion dollars to the national economy because of the ravages of climate change since the year 2000. Further worsening the situation, the future cost of the climate impact may increase to $14 billion per year over the next four decades (Eckstein et al., 2020). In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed the heatwave that resulted in the impairment of grain filling, especially in the Autumn Maize crop. Crop quality and nutrient status of the produce has also been deteriorating under such harsh conditions.

Climate change increases in local and global temperatures pose a significant threat to plant growth and crop production (Pareek, Dhankher and Foyer, 2020). If current rates of global warming continue, global temperatures will continue to increase by a further 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018). Heat stress can impair all stages of plant growth from germination to reproduction, limiting the productivity of major staple food crops (Hussain et al., 2019). For example, heat stress has a negative impact on wheat yields. A 4–6% reduction in average global yields of wheat is predicted for each 1 °C increase in global mean temperature (Asseng et al., 2015). 

Another grave reality of the world is malnutrition as 1 in 9 people suffer from nutrient deficiency, resulting in stunted heights and poor human growth.  A healthy adult may require 3,400 mg of potassium on daily basis (National Institute of Health, 2019), and potassium fertilization at assures the concentration of K in wheat grains up to 5400 mg K/Kg (Hussain, 2020). According to FAO estimates, the world population will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. and world food production will have to be increased by 50% to meetup the requirements. Eradicating hunger on the planet and guaranteeing sufficient food production to feed an ever-growing world population are challenges that our society faces. For this, it is essential to increase agricultural production and the role that potassium fertilization plays in this regard is irrefutable.

Many of the environmental problems related to agriculture will continue to exist in the coming years. It is also important to not only mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change but also to feed the coming generations on a sustainable basis. Soils must be fertilized to maintain the adequate content of mineral elements that crops need for their correct development through their absorption at the precise moment and in the necessary quantities. Fertilized soils guarantee greater food production, cut the price of agricultural products, and improve the lives of the farmer and his environment. Scientists emphasized the importance of judicious use of potassium as a key fertilizer in combating the detrimental effects of global warming and changing climate in a conference organized by Engro Fertilizers and MNS University of Agriculture, Multan. Potassium plays many important roles that enable the crop plants to not only withstand the harsh climate and extremes but also play decisive roles in yield and production. Potassium strengthens the vascular bundle to transport water within the plant body, so it increases its resistance towards disease, especially under high temperatures.                                                            

Potassium is an essential component in living beings and plays a fundamental role in the growth of plants. Potassium is indispensable for plant growth and yield building, and not just in low water or dry conditions, even under optimal growing conditions, potassium fertilization pays off. But, in a year of drought, it is even more effective: the plant is under stress and benefits even more from the positive effects of nutrients. Trials advocate the application of potassic fertilizer (Pettigrew, 2008) and highlight the prospects of potassium solubilizing microbes for yield enhancement (Ali et al., 2020). Value addition of potassium fertilizers to minimize the potash losses is a great challenge of the fertilizer industry. The specialty fertilizer industry transforms the mineral nutrients for value addition in many ways including polymer and microbial coatings which significantly reduces the nutrient losses and usability by the crop plants.   These nutrients are in forms that can be assimilated by plants.  It results in the form of increased production with high grain mineral contents but also improves the flavor, taste, and shelf life of the produce.  Sardans and Peñuelas (2015) has reviewed the functions of potassium in crop plants and connoted that potassium regulates the function of opening and closing of the leaf stomata and consequently transpiration of the plant. Thus, a good potassium supply makes it possible to reduce unproductive water losses. The potassium is important for photosynthesis and to promote transport of assimilates from photosynthesis to the roots and storage organs. Thus, it actively participates in good root growth, a key factor in building yield. With a more developed root system, which can absorb water from deeper layers of the soil, the plant will be able to withstand long periods of drought. Potassium increases the water holding capacity of the soil so that more water available to plants, their growth, formation, and performance. It directly influences photosynthesis through action on chloroplasts and indirectly through its influence on the stomata closure mechanism. It participates in the activation of more than 50 enzymes in the metabolism of the plant, thus it Improves the formation of carbohydrates such as sugar and starch, and facilitates the transport and storage of carbohydrates from the leaves to the storage organs.  Incorporation of potassium also enhances the uptake of Zn with up to 75 % increment in Zn contents in grains (Hussain et al., 2020). Thus, the use of potash not only increases the chances of survival under changing climate conditions but also imparts high resilience in terms of crop productivity for the coming generations.  The use of value-added potassium fertilizer will assure the cost-cutting due to curbing losses and increase productivity, and it is a frontline weapon in combating with devouring threat of climate change.

References

Ali, A. M., Awad, M. Y., Hegab, S. A., Gawad, A. M. A. E., & Eissa, M. A. (2020). Effect of potassium solubilizing bacteria (Bacillus cereus) on growth and yield of potato. Journal of Plant Nutrition, 1-10.

Eckstein, D., Künzel, V., Schäfer, L., & Winges, M. (2020). Global Climate Risk Index 2020: who suffers most from extreme weather events? Weather-related loss events in 2018 and 1999–2018. Germanwatch, Bonn.

Hussain, S., Shah, M. A. A., Khan, A. M., Ahmad, F., & Hussain, M. (2020). Potassium Enhanced Grain Zinc Accumulation In Wheat Grown On A Calcareous Saline-Sodic Soil. Pak. J. Bot52(1), 69-74.

National Institutes of Health. (2019). Potassium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/

Pareek, A., Dhankher, O. P., & Foyer, C. H. (2020). Mitigating the impact of climate change on plant productivity and ecosystem sustainability. Journal of Experimental Botany, 71(2), 451-456.

Pettigrew, W. T. (2008). Potassium influences on yield and quality production for maize, wheat, soybean and cotton. Physiologia plantarum133(4), 670-681.

Sardans, J., & Peñuelas, J. (2015). Potassium: a neglected nutrient in global change. Global Ecology and Biogeography24(3), 261-275.

Zeeshan Ali

Experienced person with a demonstrated history of working in the fertilizer & Agro-Chemicals industry. Skilled in Plants Nutrition Management, Crop Productivity Enhancement, Fertilizer Management, Advances in Research & Nutrition, Management, Sales, Strategic Planning, and Sales Management. Strong Sales professional graduated from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

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