Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 2577–2591 | Cite as

Agronomic biofortification of maize and beans in Kenya through selenium fertilization

  • Peter Biu NgigiEmail author
  • Carl Lachat
  • Peter Wafula Masinde
  • Gijs Du Laing
Original Paper


Deficiency in calcium, zinc, selenium, and iodine remains a major health issue in Africa. A selenium (Se) status survey conducted in central Kenya highlands revealed a high risk of dietary Se deficiency. This study investigates the effect of soil and foliar Se fertilizer application on Se concentration in maize and bean grains. It further tests the combination of Se fertilizer with phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers, and with zinc and iodine fertilizers. Selenium fertilization results in a significant increase in Se concentration in grains. For the soil application, Se concentration increases on average by 3 µg kg−1 in maize and by 10 µg kg−1 in beans, for each gram of Se applied as sodium selenate. Foliar Se fertilization is more effective and increases Se concentration in grains on average by 18 µg kg−1 in maize, and by 67 µg kg−1 in beans. Total soil phosphorus/availability appears as an important factor influencing soil Se availability. Addition of phosphorus fertilizers positively affects the impact of Se fertilization in locations with low soil P, Fe, and Al. A Se + Zn + I fertilizer combination does not affect the impact on Se concentration in grains. Fertilizing beans alone is found to be more efficient compared to fertilizing only maize. In locations at high risk of dietary Se deficiency, foliar application at 10 g Se ha−1 on beans or 31 g Se ha−1 on maize is sufficient to achieve adequate daily dietary Se intake. The study points towards a multi-mineral agronomic biofortification, based on a site-specific biofortification strategy.


Selenium Agronomic biofortification Zinc Iodine Kenya 



We thank VRIL-OUS: Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad voor Universitaire Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (Flemish Interuniversity Council for University development cooperation) for funding this project as part of ICP-PHD scholarships, as well as Meru University of Science and Technology in Kenya for granting a study leave in support of the project. We are also very grateful to the location chiefs and village managers who helped organize the field experiments, and to the households who offered their time and part of their farms for conducting the experimental trials.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Food Technology, Safety and HealthGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of AgricultureMeru University of Science and TechnologyMeruKenya

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