Monday, 3 August 2015

Combatting malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa...by Grace Manzeke

Grace Manzeke
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 change and variability among others. Working in these communities for over 10 years now, the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA) at the University of Zimbabwe has been promoting impact-oriented research for development through a multi-institutional 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 such as relevant skills and knowledge to address the inherent and emerging challenges.

As a research fellow for SOFECSA, I recently acquired a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship award (CSCUK) with the Inorganic Geochemistry team at the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Nottingham (UoN) through the Joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (CEG) to gain relevant skills and knowledge on modern sampling design and implementation, database management, GIS, geostatistics and laboratory quality assurance techniques. The BGS is a centre for technology excellence with laboratories equipped with modern instruments and dedicated technologically sound staff, statisticians and geochemists relevant to support emerging research on alleviating extreme poverty and malnutrition in Zimbabwe smallholder communities and the region. This support is fundamental for my Royal Society (DFID) (See GeoBlogy: The Future is Africa) - PhD project on geospatial characteristic of micronutrient deficiency in Zimbabwean soils. Results generated to date during the CSCUK training showed that our soils are very acidic with low total Zn concentrations of 29.1mg kg -1 implying the need for agricultural interventions to enhance crop productivity. I would recommend the future of soil science research in Zimbabwe to be inclined towards use of table isotopes e.g. 70Zn for detecting available soil nutrients to promote soil-plant transfers to combat regional 'hidden hunger' estimated at 40%. This is a novel approach that is currently implemented at the UoN and would recommend for sustainable agricultural interventions in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa. The CSCUK project enabled me to develop collaborative links with other CSCUK Fellows hosted by the Inorganic Geochemistry team at the BGS (See GeoBlogy: Discovering Malawi's spatial data), and other experts at BGS and UoN who will be able to provide assistance in establishing sustainable research links.

Grace Menzeke is a Research Assistant in the Department of Soils & Agriculture at the University of Zimbabwe. She is currently a PhD student working on a Royal Society-DFID funded project awarded to the British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham Africa Network. 


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