Superabsorbents in Agriculture: Addressing Drought Challenges

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Superabsorbents in Agriculture: Addressing Drought Challenges

As the world’s population continues to expand, agriculture stands as a pivotal sector, driven by the escalating demand for food. However, this vital domain faces numerous challenges, notably the devastating impact of natural disasters like drought. This adversity not only affects farmers but also influences the social, economic, and environmental facets of their nations. To combat the dire consequences of drought stress, the application of superabsorbents emerges as a viable solution.

Superabsorbents, also recognized as water-absorbing polymers, serve as an effective soil amendment, bolstering soil health by enhancing water retention and moisture availability. These polymers possess the capacity to absorb substantial quantities of water, gradually releasing it to plant roots over time.


Extensive studies corroborate the non-toxic and eco-friendly nature of these materials. They leave no adverse footprint on agricultural soil post-application, nor do they impede the growth of plants, living organisms, or impact soil and surface water. Moreover, they pose no threats to human health, plant life, soil integrity, or the environment.

The utilization of superabsorbent polymers presents multifaceted advantages. They augment soil porosity, elevate water-holding capabilities, and curtail nitrogen leaching losses by as much as 45%. These materials, characterized by their odorless and colorless properties, do not contaminate soil, water, or plant tissue. Upon contact with water, they transform into a swollen gel, effectively retaining water and essential nutrients. It’s important to note that superabsorbents complement rather than replace chemicals, fertilizers, or irrigation. They fortify the soil’s capacity to retain water and essential nutrients, preventing wastage and runoff.

Over a span of 5 to 12 years, these materials gradually decompose through microbial action and sunlight exposure, reverting to harmless elements like water, carbon dioxide, and ammonium, leaving no residue in nature.

Advantages of Superabsorbent Polymers in Agriculture

The application of superabsorbents in agriculture yields numerous benefits:

  • Enhancement of soil hydro-physical properties
  • Mitigation of soil erosion
  • Minimization of water loss by improving soil water retention
  • Reduced frequency and costs of irrigation
  • Improved uptake of plant nutrients and water
  • Diminished pesticide leaching and fertilizer runoff
  • Stimulation of plant growth and increased crop yield

Application Guidelines

The quantity of superabsorbent required hinges on factors like the type of polymer, soil texture, plant species, and regional climatic conditions. For instance, clay soil necessitates less superabsorbent than sandy or loamy soil due to its lower porosity. Therefore, sandy soil exhibits better receptivity to superabsorbent application than clay soil. The application rate is higher in hot and arid regions compared to wetter climates. However, excessive use is cautioned against, as the substance swells upon water absorption, potentially causing root asphyxiation.

How to Apply Superabsorbents

Incorporation of superabsorbent polymers into the soil during land preparation or their mixture with irrigation water for direct application around the root zone is recommended. It’s crucial to ensure thorough mixing with the soil and avoid surface application to prevent rapid degradation due to sunlight and UV exposure.

Maryse Bou Zeid

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