SEGH Articles

Award for work on tackling hidden hunger

25 March 2016
Estimates suggest that more than 2 billion people could be suffering from micronutrient deficiencies.

 

 

Estimates suggest that more than 2 billion people could be suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. Among those searching for solutions to this global problem is Muneta Grace Manzeke – a PhD student from the University of Zimbabwe whose work in Zimbabwe is being supported through a new Royal Society-Department for International Development (DFID) Africa Capacity Strengthening Initiative led by The University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey.

Grace, a PhD student under the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA) Research Group in the Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Zimbabwe, is looking at on-farm micronutrient malnutrition through understanding factors affecting bioavailability of selenium, zinc and iron in tropical soils. She is also investigating the influence of diverse farmer soil fertility management techniques on crop productivity and human nutrition.

Her work could prove so beneficial to on-farm crop nutrition she has been recognised by the International Fertiliser Society, becoming the first recipient of the Brian Chambers Award for early career researchers in crop nutrition. The award is an industry accolade for researchers working at the MSc or PhD level, who can demonstrate how their work will provide practical benefits to farm crop nutrition. It also provides a cash prize of £1,000 for the winner.

Micronutrient deficiencies lead to impaired physical and cognitive development, increased risk of morbidity in children and reduced work productivity in adults. Selenium and zinc have vital roles in keeping the immune system healthy and iron deficiency and anaemia result in poor pregnancy outcomes.

Grace said: “Smallholder rain-fed agriculture supports livelihoods of more than 60% of the Zimbabwean population. Like any system, it faces various challenges that include poor soils, poor crop yields and climate variability among others. Working in these communities for over 10 years now, SOFECSA partners at the University of Zimbabwe have been promoting impact-oriented research for development through a multi-institutional and inter-disciplinary approach. This has opened an avenue of research that could be explored in these farming communities, some of which require external regional and international support including relevant skills and knowledge to address the inherent and emerging challenges.”

The wider programme – Strengthening African capacity in soil geo-chemistry to inform agricultural and health policies – supported by The University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey Centre for Environmental Geochemistry –involves core PhD projects based at partner institutions: Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Agricultural Research in Malawi; the University of Zambia, the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute, and the Copperbelt  University in Zambia, and the Chemistry & Soils Research Institute in Zimbabwe.

If you want to learn more about the work Grace is doing here’s a link to her blog.

For her Masters, also supported by SOFECSA, Grace specifically focused on exploring the effectiveness of different fertilizer formulations to alleviate zinc deficiency in smallholder maize production systems in Zimbabwe. Grace’s Professional Fellowship to the UK in 2015 was funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Council UK. She has four publications on zinc nutrition and integrated soil fertility management including papers published in Plant and Soil and Field Crops Research.

Martin Broadley, Professor of Plant Nutrition, in the School of Biosciences at Nottingham, said: “The aim of the current programme is to strengthen the rresearch capacity of universities and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through focusing on the training of students and technical staff in Africa. Our project is in the priority area of soil science, with a specific focus on how soils underpin healthy nutrition, especially for those involved in producing their own food.  The initial project runs until 2020, however, we are delighted to have attracted additional studentships into the network already, as we seek to ensure the long-term sustainability of this programme.”Other joint network PhD projects focus on wider agriculture and public health questions developed in collaboration with our African partners.”

Martin’s blog with BGS on the project can be found here and follow the project on twitter @AfricaGeochem

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Distribution of metal(loid)s in particle size fraction in urban soil and street dust: influence of population density 2020-01-18

    Abstract

    Assessment of street dust is an invaluable approach for monitoring atmospheric pollution. Little information is available on the size distribution of contaminants in street dusts and urban soils, and it is not known how the population density would influence them. This research was carried out to assess the size distribution of trace metal(loid)s in street dust and urban soil, and to understand how population density might influence the size-resolved concentration of metal(loid)s. Three urban areas with a high, medium and low population density and a natural area were selected and urban soil and street dust sampled. They were fractionated into 8 size fractions: 2000–850, 850–180, 180–106, 106–50, 50–20, 20–10, 10–2, and < 2 µm. The concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, Cr, Ni, As, and Fe was determined, and enrichment factor and grain size fraction loadings were computed. The results indicated that the concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, and Cr was highly size dependent, particularly for particles < 100 µm, especially for street dust. Low concentrations of Ni and As in street dust and urban soil were size and population density independent. Higher size dependency of the metals concentration and the higher degree of elemental enrichment in the street dust fractions than the urban soils indicate higher contribution of human-induced pollution to the dust. Findings also confirm the inevitability of size fractionation when soils or dusts are environmentally assessed, particularly in moderately to highly polluted areas. Otherwise, higher concentrations of certain pollutants in fine-sized particles might be overlooked leading to inappropriate decisions for environmental remediation.

  • Soil–plant system and potential human health risk of Chinese cabbage and oregano growing in soils from Mn- and Fe-abandoned mines: microcosm assay 2020-01-17

    Abstract

    In Portugal, many abandoned mines are often close to agricultural areas and might be used for plant food cultivation. Soils in the vicinity of two Mn- and Fe-abandoned mines (Ferragudo and Rosalgar, SW of Portugal) were collected to cultivate two different food species (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis (Lour.) Hanelt and Origanum vulgare L.). Chemical characterization of the soil–plant system and potential risk of adverse effects for human health posed by plants associated with soil contamination, based on the estimation of hazard quotient (HQ), were assessed in a microcosm assay under greenhouse conditions. In both soils, the average total concentrations of Fe and Mn were above the normal values for soils in the region and their concentration in shoots of both species was very high. Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis grew better in Ferragudo than in Rosalgar soils, and it behaved as an excluder of Cu, Mn, Fe, S and Zn in both soils. The HQ for Cu, Fe, Mn and Zn in the studied species grown on both soils was lower than unit indicating that its consumption is safe. The high Mn tolerance found in both species might be due in part to the high contents of Fe in the soil available fraction that might contribute to an antagonism effect in the uptake and translocation of Mn. The obtained results emphasize the need of further studies with different food crops before cultivation in the studied soils to assess health risks associated with high metal intake.

  • Concentration, fractionation, and ecological risk assessment of heavy metals and phosphorus in surface sediments from lakes in N. Greece 2020-01-13

    Abstract

    The presence of phosphorus (P) and heavy metals (HMs) in surface sediments originating from lakes Volvi, Kerkini, and Doirani (N. Greece), as well as their fractionation patterns, were investigated. No statistically significant differences in total P content were observed among the studied lakes, but notable differences were observed among sampling periods. HM contents in all lakes presented a consistent trend, i.e., Mn > Cr > Zn > Pb > Ni > Cu > Cd, while the highest concentrations were recorded in Lake Kerkini. Most of the HMs exceeded probable effect level value indicating a probable biological effect, while Ni in many cases even exceeded threshold effects level, suggesting severe toxic effects. P was dominantly bound to metal oxides, while a significant shift toward the labile fractions was observed during the spring period. The sum of potentially bioavailable HM fractions followed a downward trend of Mn > Cr > Pb > Zn > Cu > Ni > Cd for most lakes. The geoaccumulation index Igeo values of Cr, Cu, Mn, Ni, and Zn in all lakes characterized the sediments as “unpolluted,” while many sediments in lakes Volvi and Kerkini were characterized as “moderately to heavily polluted” with regard to Cd. The descending order of potential ecological risk \(E_{\text{r}}^{i}\) was Cd > Pb > Cu > Ni > Cr > Zn > Mn for all the studied lakes. Ni and Cr presented the highest toxic risk index values in all lake sediments. Finally, the role of mineralogical divergences among lake sediments on the contamination degree was signified.