SEGH Articles

The Future is Africa

05 February 2014
In early January Dr Michael Watts visited Zimbabwe and Zambia with a colleague from the University of Nottingham. They were funded from a Royal Society-DFID grant to foster science networks in Africa and to help strengthen scientific capacity. Here Michael tells us about his trip

 

 On a recent visit to Zimbabwe and Zambia with my colleague Prof Martin Broadley from the University of Nottingham, we faced the usual clichés of poverty, rickety infrastructure and reported political problems (in Africa that is!). On the ground, we experienced well organised accommodation, welcoming people, good internet links, extensive construction projects and in particular we met some innovative colleagues working in academia. Academics in that part of the world press on with applied research, despite limitations in funds and access to the latest technology. In particular they use tried and tested approaches to laboratory analyses, field trials and application of empirical knowledge to help answer some real soil and agricultural problems, especially using regional networks.  In the UK, we could be mistaken for thinking all of Africa is dependent on aid. Much of it is, but in Zambia and Zimbabwe, there are huge opportunities in commodities and agriculture, as well as multimedia services driven by rapid progress in IT, internet and mobile phones. 

There are numerous opportunities for UK science to collaborate on an equal basis with African scientists. For example, our previous efforts in Malawi in proposing the biofortification of staple crops with essential micronutrients to target key health issues at a population level, is becoming accepted in the region. Many studies within academia and research institutes are underway to explore best practice for agricultural techniques to improve the fertility and micronutrient content of soil for food production / quality, within the confines of available resources, such as limited lab capability. The reason for our recent visit resulted from a network grant from the Royal Society-DFID call for strengthening science capacity in Africa. For our part, improving soil science capacity to build on excellent regional academic capability through access to current technologies in lab analyses, data representation and geostatistics. This can be facilitated via north-south and south-south research links with consortia partners in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Alongside the agricultural initiatives, there are opportunities for SEGH scientists to collaborate with local scientists on contaminant exposure associated with immense mining activities. Current studies in Zambia employ exposure techniques (microbial activity, human biomarker analyses) to inform safe working practices and better environmental strategies for resource exploitation, particularly in the copper belt region. Whilst the RS-DFID call will fund African PhD students in African institutions, there are opportunities for UK students to learn environmental science in tropical environments and to develop their wider understanding. Two-way exchange of students and research staff will build the future collaborative partnerships to the benefit of SEGH and African science capacity.

Dr Michael Watts  http://www.bgs.ac.uk/staff/profiles/4583.html

BGS-University of Nottingham Centre for Environmental Geochemistry

 

Acknowledgements:

Royal Society for the network grant funding and the BGS Global initiative.

Related reports:

http://segh.net/articles/Notes_from_Malawi/

Joy E et al. (2014). Dietary Mineral Supplies in Africa, Plant Physiologia, in press DOI: 10.1111/ppl.12144. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ppl.12144/abstract 

Hurst R, Siyame EWP, Young SD, Chilimba ADC, Joy EJM, Black CR, Ander EL, Watts MJ, Chilima B, Gondwe J, Kang'ombe D, Stein AJ, Fairweather-Tait SJ, Gibson RS, Kalimbira A, Broadley MR (2013). Soil-type influences human selenium status and underlies widespread selenium deficiency risks in Malawi. Scientific Reports, 3, 1425. http://bit.ly/10Cd5P5.

Chilimba ADC, Young SD, Black CR, Rogerson KB, Ander EL, Watts M, Lammel J, Broadley MR (2011). Maize grain and soil surveys reveal suboptimal dietary selenium intake is widespread in Malawi. Scientific Reports, 1, 72. http://bit.ly/ZjK3Th

Broadley MR, Chilimba ADC, Joy E, Young SD, Black CR, Ander EL, Watts MJ, Hurst R, Fairweather-Tait SJ, White PJ, Gibson RS (2012). Dietary requirements for magnesium but not calcium are likely to be met in Malawi based on national food supply data. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 82, 192-199. http://bit.ly/WGa2I6

Joy EJM, Young SD, Black CR, Ander EL, Watts, MJ, Broadley MR (2013). Risk of dietary magnesium deficiency is low in most African countries based on food supply data. Plant and Soil, doi:10.1007/s11104-012-1388-z. http://bit.ly/16pJPiD

Keep up to date

SEGH Events

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

  • Status, source identification, and health risks of potentially toxic element concentrations in road dust in a medium-sized city in a developing country 2017-09-19

    Abstract

    This study aims to determine the status of potentially toxic element concentrations of road dust in a medium-sized city (Rawang, Malaysia). This study adopts source identification via enrichment factor, Pearson correlation analysis, and Fourier spectral analysis to identify sources of potentially toxic element concentrations in road dust in Rawang City, Malaysia. Health risk assessment was conducted to determine potential health risks (carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks) among adults and children via multiple pathways (i.e., ingestion, dermal contact, and inhalation). Mean of potentially toxic element concentrations were found in the order of Pb > Zn > Cr(IV) > Cu > Ni > Cd > As > Co. Source identification revealed that Cu, Cd, Pb, Zn, Ni, and Cr(IV) are associated with anthropogenic sources in industrial and highly populated areas in northern and southern Rawang, cement factories in southern Rawang, as well as the rapid development and population growth in northwestern Rawang, which have resulted in high traffic congestion. Cobalt, Fe, and As are related to geological background and lithologies in Rawang. Pathway orders for both carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks are ingestion, dermal contact, and inhalation, involving adults and children. Non-carcinogenic health risks in adults were attributed to Cr(IV), Pb, and Cd, whereas Cu, Cd, Cr(IV), Pb, and Zn were found to have non-carcinogenic health risks for children. Cd, Cr(IV), Pb, and As may induce carcinogenic risks in adults and children, and the total lifetime cancer risk values exceeded incremental lifetime.

  • Erratum to: Preliminary assessment of surface soil lead concentrations in Melbourne, Australia 2017-09-11
  • In vivo uptake of iodine from a Fucus serratus Linnaeus seaweed bath: does volatile iodine contribute? 2017-09-02

    Abstract

    Seaweed baths containing Fucus serratus Linnaeus are a rich source of iodine which has the potential to increase the urinary iodide concentration (UIC) of the bather. In this study, the range of total iodine concentration in seawater (22–105 µg L−1) and seaweed baths (808–13,734 µg L−1) was measured over 1 year. The seasonal trend shows minimum levels in summer (May–July) and maximum in winter (November–January). The bathwater pH was found to be acidic, average pH 5.9 ± 0.3. An in vivo study with 30 volunteers was undertaken to measure the UIC of 15 bathers immersed in the bath and 15 non-bathers sitting adjacent to the bath. Their UIC was analysed pre- and post-seaweed bath and corrected for creatinine concentration. The corrected UIC of the population shows an increase following the seaweed bath from a pre-treatment median of 76 µg L−1 to a post-treatment median of 95 µg L−1. The pre-treatment UIC for both groups did not indicate significant difference (p = 0.479); however, the post-treatment UIC for both did (p = 0.015) where the median bather test UIC was 86 µg L−1 and the non-bather UIC test was 105 µg L−1. Results indicate the bath has the potential to increase the UIC by a significant amount and that inhalation of volatile iodine is a more significant contributor to UIC than previously documented.