Boron and Borates Provide Stability for Food Security

Sep 3, 2021 | FOOD SECURITY

How Boron Brings Stability to Food Security

Concepts of food security have evolved in the last thirty years to reflect changes in official policy thinking.

The term first originated in the mid-1970s, when the World Food Conference (1974) defined food security in terms of food supply – assuring the availability and price stability of basic foodstuffs at the international and national level: “Availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices”.

In 1983, FAO analysis focused on food access, leading to a definition based on the balance between the demand and supply side of the food security equation: “Ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they need” (FAO, 1983).

Boron Borates Food Security

Dimensions Of Food Security

Food availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid). 

Food access: Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic, and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources). 

Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security.

Stability: To be food secure, a population, household, or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security.

FAO’s twin-track Approach Helps Stability

FAO’s ‘twin-track approach’ for fighting hunger combines sustainable agricultural and rural development with targeted programs for enhancing direct access to food for the neediest. 

Rural Development/ productivity enhancement

  • Diversifying agriculture and employment
  •  Monitoring food security and vulnerability 
  • Dealing with the structural causes of food insecurity
  • Reintegrating refugees and displaced people 
  • Developing risk analysis and management 
  • Reviving access to the credit system and savings mechanisms

Direct and Immediate Access to Food

  • Re-establishing social safety nets, monitoring immediate vulnerability and intervention impact 
  • Peace-building efforts

Food Security Promotes Stability and Economic Opportunity

Boron - Food Security

Greater prosperity and economic growth in low-income countries create new and expanding markets, presenting growth opportunities for American farmers, ranchers, and businesses. 

For instance, in Africa alone, the value of the agriculture and food sector is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030. Rising incomes and changing diets are increasing the demand for more diverse and nutritious foods. As economies grow, so does the demand for agricultural products, benefiting farmers locally and globally.

Growing economic opportunities in the agriculture sector reach well beyond food production into sales of machinery and inputs, growth in demand for consumer packaged goods, and digital technologies for agriculture, where American companies are global leaders. (the Chicago council.org)

Boron Helps In Plant Growth Through Nutrient Uptake Thus Ensuring Food Security

The robust growth and functioning of all living organisms, including plants, requires a well-balanced uptake of nutrients from the environment. However, nutrients are not always readily available in the environment at the organisms’ optimal levels.

This issue is exacerbated for sessile plants which take up essential minerals, required for their growth and functioning, from the soil in which the nutrient concentrations are mainly determined by elemental contents of igneous rocks. Most soils are either deficient or above essential elements ( Roy et al., 2006 ).

Plants have therefore evolved to take up these essential minerals from the soil in a regulated manner over a wide range of concentrations through their roots, conveying the nutrients to the rest of the plant body via the vascular network. For a well-balanced uptake of nutrients from soils by roots, nutrient transport processes need to be regulated in a nutrient-dependent manner, which constitutes one of the essential processes for plant growth and crop production. (elifesciences.org)

Nutrient uptake by roots often involves substrate-dependent regulated nutrient transporters. For robust uptake, the system requires a regulatory circuit within cells and collective, coordinated behavior across the tissue. 

A paradigm for such systems is boron uptake, known for its directional transport and homeostasis, as boron is essential for plant growth but toxic at high concentrations. In Arabidopsis thaliana, boron uptake occurs via diffusion facilitators (NIPs) and exporters (BORs), each presenting distinct polarity. Intriguingly, although boron soil concentrations are homogenous and stable, both transporters manifest strikingly swift boron-dependent regulation.

Through mathematical modeling, we demonstrate that slower regulation of these transporters leads to physiologically detrimental oscillatory behavior. Cells become periodically exposed to potentially cytotoxic boron levels, and nutrient throughput to the xylem becomes hampered. We conclude that, while maintaining homeostasis, swift transporter regulation within a polarized tissue context is critical to prevent intrinsic traffic-jam-like behavior of the nutrient flow.

Boron - Fertilisers

Keren and Bingham, 1985, analyzing the effects of solution-to-soil ratio on the boron concentration in soil water, propose that soil adsorption plays a role in buffering the fluctuations in boron concentration in soil water as a consequence of fluctuations in the water-soil ratio.

Mathematical modeling was used to predict the boron concentrations in the soil solution from the water-to-soil ratio ( Keren, 1981 ), revealing that boron concentration in the soil is robust against fluctuations in the water-to-soil ratio if soil adsorption is considered. From these in-depth studies, the picture consolidates that rapid fluctuations in boron concentration are indeed unlikely, or rare events even if they could occur under very specific and unlikely conditions. 

Given that there is no apparent necessity for swift regulation, it is thus surprising to find cost-ineffective down-regulation mechanisms through degradation of mRNA and protein underpinning this system, instead of more cost-effective down-regulation processes via transcriptional repression. 

In short, down-regulation of boron transporters can be readily understood as a natural adaptive mechanism for plants to optimize growth and function at different geographical locations with varying natural boron concentrations. Nevertheless, it remains intriguing as to why plants have evolved such analyzing swiftness in the regulation of these transporters.

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