Friday, 30 October 2015

Soil Geochemistry for agriculture and health...by Michael Watts & Martin Broadley

Four RS-DFID PhD students from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 
In September we launched our Royal Society-Department for International Development (RS-DFID) doctoral training programme, Soil geochemistry for agriculture and health, in Harare.  The programme runs from 2015-2020 and is being co-ordinated by the joint University of Nottingham (UoN) / British Geological Survey (BGS) Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG).

This is an incredibly exciting programme, involving core PhD projects based at partner institutions in Malawi (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural Research), Zambia (University of Zambia, University of the Copperbelt, Zambian Agricultural Research Institute), and Zimbabwe (University of Zimbabwe, Chemistry & Soils Research Institute). One PhD project is on understanding selenium/iodine dynamics in tropical soils (Ivy Ligowe, based in Lilongwe); one is on managing soil zinc and iron supply to crops in smallholder systems (Grace Manzeke, based in Harare); one is on metal speciation in soils affected by mining (Belinda Kaninga, based in Copperbelt/Lusaka).

There are other aligned PhD projects registered at UoN, focusing on wider agriculture and public health questions developed in collaboration with our African partners. These include Felix Phiri, a human nutritionist from Malawi (Director of Nutrition, Ministry of Health) who is aiming to develop urinary biomarkers of selenium status, and Elliott Hamilton, from BGS, who will work on improving our understanding of chromium speciation and bioavailability in tropical soils.  Elliott will work closely with Belinda in Zambia. Felix and Elliott are both combining part-time PhD studies with their day-jobs, and we hope to bring other students into the network on this ‘professional’ basis in the coming years. We have one more PhD full-time student within the CEG, Olivier Humphrey who will focus on the highly specific analytical method development for measuring iodine dynamics through elemental speciation and isotope geochemistry. Olivier’s work is very much linked to Ivy’s PhD, which will focus more on developing soil management strategies.
Delegates attending RS-DFID network-training event in Harare.


During a wonderful two weeks in Harare, hosted by the University of Zimbabwe, ~30 participants engaged with technical and generic training activities, as well as specific project development meetings. Training sessions included those on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), sampling/geostatistics, stable isotope techniques, ethics, data management and technical writing. Many people contributed directly and remotely.  The meeting also included an assessment of the projects capacity strengthening (CS) goals and guidance on using appropriate metrics tools to demonstrate progress from the Capacity Research Unit from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.  Our consortium chose the University of Zimbabwe for the programme launch in part because of their strengths in GIS.  The next training session will be in the UK in May 2016, then Lilongwe in September 2016.

There are many opportunities for developing new joint PhD projects, in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, UK and linking with activities elsewhere in Africa. There are also many opportunities for getting involved in specific training activities (participation and delivery!).


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