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

  • Ecological impact of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin on microbial community of aerobic activated sludge 2019-08-16


    This study investigated the effects and fate of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (CIP) at environmentally relevant levels (50–500 µg/L) in activated sludge (AS) microbial communities under aerobic conditions. Exposure to 500 µg/L of CIP decreased species diversity by about 20% and significantly altered the phylogenetic structure of AS communities compared to those of control communities (no CIP exposure), while there were no significant changes upon exposure to 50 µg/L of CIP. Analysis of community composition revealed that exposure to 500 µg/L of CIP significantly reduced the relative abundance of Rhodobacteraceae and Nakamurellaceae by more than tenfold. These species frequently occur in AS communities across many full-scale wastewater treatment plants and are involved in key ecosystem functions (i.e., organic matter and nitrogen removal). Our analyses showed that 50–500 µg/L CIP was poorly removed in AS (about 20% removal), implying that the majority of CIP from AS processes may be released with either their effluents or waste sludge. We therefore strongly recommend further research on CIP residuals and/or post-treatment processes (e.g., anaerobic digestion) for waste streams that may cause ecological risks in receiving water bodies.

  • Source and background threshold values of potentially toxic elements in soils by multivariate statistics and GIS-based mapping: a high density sampling survey in the Parauapebas basin, Brazilian Amazon 2019-08-10


    A high-density regional-scale soil geochemical survey comprising 727 samples (one sample per each 5 × 5 km grid) was carried out in the Parauapebas sub-basin of the Brazilian Amazonia, under the Itacaiúnas Basin Geochemical Mapping and Background Project. Samples were taken from two depths at each site: surface soil, 0–20 cm and deep soil, 30–50 cm. The ground and sieved (< 75 µm) fraction was digested using aqua regia and analyzed for 51 elements by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS). All data were used here, but the principal focus was on the potential toxic elements (PTEs) and Fe and Mn to evaluate the spatial distribution patterns and to establish their geochemical background concentrations in soils. Geochemical maps as well as principal component analysis (PCA) show that the distribution patterns of the elements are very similar between surface and deep soils. The PCA, applied on clr-transformed data, identified four major associations: Fe–Ti–V–Sc–Cu–Cr–Ni (Gp-1); Zr–Hf–U–Nb–Th–Al–P–Mo–Ga (Gp-2); K–Na–Ca–Mg–Ba–Rb–Sr (Gp-3); and La–Ce–Co–Mn–Y–Zn–Cd (Gp-4). Moreover, the distribution patterns of elements varied significantly among the three major geological domains. The whole data indicate a strong imprint of local geological setting in the geochemical associations and point to a dominant geogenic origin for the analyzed elements. Copper and Fe in Gp-1 were enriched in the Carajás basin and are associated with metavolcanic rocks and banded-iron formations, respectively. However, the spatial distribution of Cu is also highly influenced by two hydrothermal mineralized copper belts. Ni–Cr in Gp-1 are highly correlated and spatially associated with mafic and ultramafic units. The Gp-2 is partially composed of high field strength elements (Zr, Hf, Nb, U, Th) that could be linked to occurrences of A-type Neoarchean granites. The Gp-3 elements are mobile elements which are commonly found in feldspars and other rock-forming minerals being liberated by chemical weathering. The background threshold values (BTV) were estimated separately for surface and deep soils using different methods. The ‘75th percentile’, which commonly used for the estimation of the quality reference values (QRVs) following the Brazilian regulation, gave more restrictive or conservative (low) BTVs, while the ‘MMAD’ was more realistic to define high BTVs that can better represent the so-called mineralized/normal background. Compared with CONAMA Resolution (No. 420/2009), the conservative BTVs of most of the toxic elements were below the prevention limits (PV), except Cu, but when the high BTVs are considered, Cu, Co, Cr and Ni exceeded the PV limits. The degree of contamination (Cdeg), based on the conservative BTVs, indicates low contamination, except in the Carajás basin, which shows many anomalies and had high contamination mainly from Cu, Cr and Ni, but this is similar between surface and deep soils indicating that the observed high anomalies are strictly related to geogenic control. This is supported when the Cdeg is calculated using the high BTVs, which indicates low contamination. This suggests that the use of only conservative BTVs for the entire region might overestimate the significance of anthropogenic contamination; thus, we suggest the use of high BTVs for effective assessment of soil contamination in this region. The methodology and results of this study may help developing strategies for geochemical mapping in other Carajás soils or in other Amazonian soils with similar characteristics.

  • Uptake of Cd, Pb, and Ni by Origanum syriacum produced in Lebanon 2019-08-06


    Trace metals are found naturally in soil. However, the increase in industrial and agricultural polluting activities has increased trace metal contamination and raised high concerns in the public health sector. The study was conducted on Origanum syriacum, one of the most consumed herbs in the Middle East, and was divided into three parts. (1) Pot experiment: to study the effect of Cd, Pb, or Ni levels in soil on their uptake by O. syriacum. (2) Field samples: collected from major agricultural regions in Lebanon to analyze Cd, Pb, and Ni concentrations in soil and leaves. (3) Sale outlets samples: to measure the levels of Cd, Pb, and Ni in O. syriacum tissues in the market. Results showed that there was a positive correlation between levels of Cd, Pb, and Ni in soil and those in O. syriacum tissues. None of the field samples contained Pb or Ni that exceeded the maximum allowable limits (MAL). Three samples collected from heavily poultry-manured soil contained Cd higher than the MAL. Samples collected from sale outlets did not exceed the MAL for Ni but two exceeded the MAL for Cd and one for Pb. Trace metal contamination is not a major concern in O. syriacum produced in Lebanon. Only one mixture sample from a sale outlet was higher in Pb than the MAL and three samples from heavily manured fields exceeded the MAL for Cd.