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

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

  • The society for environmental Geochemistry and health (SEGH): a retrospect 2019-02-22
  • Air quality and PM 10 -associated poly-aromatic hydrocarbons around the railway traffic area: statistical and air mass trajectory approaches 2019-02-19

    Abstract

    Diesel engine railway traffic causes atmosphere pollution due to the exhaust emission which may be harmful to the passengers as well as workers. In this study, the air quality and PM10 concentrations were evaluated around a railway station in Northeast India where trains are operated with diesel engines. The gaseous pollutant (e.g. SO2, NO2, and NH3) was collected and measured by using ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy. The advanced level characterizations of the PM10 samples were carried out by using ion chromatography, Fourier-transform infrared, X-ray diffraction, inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry , X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, field-emission scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive spectroscopy, and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy with energy-dispersive spectroscopy techniques to know their possible environmental contaminants. High-performance liquid chromatography technique was used to determine the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to estimate the possible atmospheric pollution level caused by the rail traffic in the enclosure. The average PM10 concentration was found to be 262.11 µg m−3 (maximum 24 hour) which indicates poor air quality (AQI category) around the rail traffic. The statistical and air mass trajectory analysis was also done to know their mutual correlation and source apportionment. This study will modify traditional studies where only models are used to simulate the origins.

  • The geochemistry of geophagic material consumed in Onangama Village, Northern Namibia: a potential health hazard for pregnant women in the area 2019-02-18

    Abstract

    Ingestion of geophagic materials might affect human health and induce diseases by different ways. The purpose of this study is to determine the geochemical composition of geophagic material consumed especially by pregnant women in Onangama Village, Northern Namibia and to assess its possible health effects. X-ray fluorescence and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry were used in order to determine the major, and trace elements as well as anions concentrations of the consumed material. The geochemical analysis revealed high concentrations of aluminium (Al), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), potassium (K), sodium (Na), and silica (Si); and trace elements including arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni) and vanadium (V) as well as sulphate (SO42−), nitrate (NO3), and nitrite (NO2) anions comparing to the recommended daily allowance for pregnant women. The pH for some of the studied samples is alkaline, which might increase the gastrointestinal tract pH (pH < 2) and cause a decrease in the bioavailability of elements. The calculated health risk index (HRI > 1) revealed that Al and Mn might be a potential risk for human consumption. Based on the results obtained from the geochemical analysis, the consumption of the studied material might present a potential health risk to pregnant women including concomitant detrimental maternal and foetal effects.