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

  • Soil contamination and human health: Part 1—preface 2020-01-27
  • The influence of application of biochar and metal-tolerant bacteria in polluted soil on morpho-physiological and anatomical parameters of spring barley 2020-01-27

    Abstract

    The paper presents the results of the model experiment on spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) grown in polluted soil. The influence of separate and combined application of wood biochar and heavy metal-tolerant bacteria on morpho-physiological, anatomical and ultrastructural parameters of H. vulgare L. has been studied. The joint application of biochar and bacteria increased the shoot length by 2.1-fold, root length by 1.7-fold, leaf length by 2.3-fold and dry weight by threefold compared to polluted variant, bringing the plant parameters to the control level. The maximal quantum yield of photosystem II decreased by 8.3% in H. vulgare L. grown in contaminated soil, whereas this decrease was less in biochar (7%), bacteria (6%) and in combined application of bacteria and biochar (5%). As for the transpiration rate, the H. vulgare L. grown in polluted soil has shown a decrease in transpiration rate by 26%. At the same time, the simultaneous application of biochar and bacteria has led to a significant improvement in the transpiration rate (14%). The H. vulgare L. also showed anatomical (integrity of epidermal, vascular bundles, parenchymal and chlorenchymal cells) and ultrastructural (chloroplasts, thylakoid system, plastoglobules, starch grains, mitochondria, peroxisomes, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles) changes, revealed by light-optical and transmission electron microscopy of leaf sections. The effects were most prominent in H. vulgare L., grown in polluted soil but gradually improved with application of biochar, bacteria and their combination. The use of biochar in combination with metal-tolerant bacteria is an efficient tool for remediation of soils, contaminated with heavy metals. The positive changes caused by the treatment can be consistently traced at all levels of plant organization.

  • Earthworms and vermicompost: an eco-friendly approach for repaying nature’s debt 2020-01-23

    Abstract

    The steady increase in the world’s population has intensified the need for crop productivity, but the majority of the agricultural practices are associated with adverse effects on the environment. Such undesired environmental outcomes may be mitigated by utilizing biological agents as part of farming practice. The present review article summarizes the analyses of the current status of global agriculture and soil scenarios; a description of the role of earthworms and their products as better biofertilizer; and suggestions for the rejuvenation of such technology despite significant lapses and gaps in research and extension programs. By maintaining a close collaboration with farmers, we have recognized a shift in their attitude and renewed optimism toward nature-based green technology. Based on these relations, it is inferred that the application of earthworm-mediated vermitechnology increases sustainable development by strengthening the underlying economic, social and ecological framework.

    Graphic abstract