Ecosystem services to alleviate iodine, selenium and zinc malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead PI
Dr Martin Roger Broadley
University of Nottingham, Sch of Biosciences
Start Date
28 July, 2010
End Date
27 January, 2011
Project Code

This Partnership and Project Development Grant (PPDG) ran for six months. The funds supported the formation of a new multinational consortium.

The primary output of the PPDG was a Research Consortium Grant (RCG). The RCG aimed (1) to improve our understanding of the role of ecosystems services provision in alleviating trace element malnutrition, (2) to enhance existing Malawian training, R&D and monitoring capabilities in trace element biogeochemistry, and (3) to facilitate and support regional knowledge exchange on trace elements within sub-Sarahan Africa.

The main activities for the consortium were to compile existing biogeochemical and nutritional trace element data, to identify knowledge gaps, and to engage in transdisciplinary networking. These activities were integrated at a workshop in Malawi (Sept. 2010). The workshop identified local stakeholders to involve in the RCG. Workshop topics included: 1. defining roles and responsibilities; 2. evidence gathering and preliminary hypothesis testing; 3. assessing expertise, facilities, logistics and training requirements; 4. facilitating new stakeholder partnerships; 5. determining scope, timelines and costs for RCG project delivery.

Four specific objectives were addressed:

1. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY: to identify key biogeochemical processes driving variation in I/Se/Zn status of food crops in contrasting Malawian ecosystems. A spatially-co-ordinated soils/crops database was compiled from existing data and evaluated for its use in determining I/Se/Zn bioavailability. Likely (extensive) issues with data availability, quality and curation informed downstream RCG project requirements.

2. NUTRITION: to conduct a feasibility analysis (logistics, cost) of analysing spatial variation in I/Se/Zn dietary status and intake in contrasting Malawian ecosystems.

3. ECONOMICS: to quantify the costs and benefits of hypothetical changes in ecosystem management to alleviate I/Se/Zn deficiency in Malawi. Existing data was integrated and new scenarios simulated. Expert assumptions, amenable to downstream testing were used where data was lacking.

4. IMPACT: to formulate strategies so that effects of "spatially-informed" changes to ecosystem management on I/Se/Zn status and intake can be tested. These strategies will inform the downstream RCG and could include detailed experiments with specific human-health end-points through to national scale monitoring.

RCG activities were developed alongside a full Impact Plan which included national and regional capacity building in training, R&D and monitoring. Sub-Saharan Africa endured widespread nutritional insecurity including chronic mineral/trace element malnutrition. Even when crop yields were good, trace element malnutrition caused diseases and cognitive and growth retardation, especially in children, and constrained regional economic growth. Iodine (I), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) deficiencies were especially widespread sub-Saharan Africa, in part due to soil chemistry and subsistence-based agro-ecosystems. The provision of trace elements to human diets via crops was a fundamental terrestrial ecosystem service. Poor management, and environmental or socio-economic change, could compromise this service.

Ecosystem management strategies to maximize I/Se/Zn availability included (1) topsoil protection, (2) 'spatially-selective' fertiliser-based crop biofortification to target receptive soil types whilst maintaining resource-consciousness, (3) green manuring, and (4) waste recycling. If ecosystems failed to deliver adequate trace elements, intervention with supplements or (bio)fortified food were feasible. Yet ecosystem management to prevent trace element malnutrition in the first instance, or to inform interventions where sustainable crop breeding options were not possible, e.g. for elements such as I and Se, remain unexplored.

Authors Title Year Citations
Joy, E.J.M.;Ander, L.;Young, S.D.;Black, C.R.;Watts, M.J.;Chilimba, A.D.C.;Chilima, B.;Siyame, E.W.P.;Kalimbira, A.A.;Hurst, R.;Fairweather-Tait, S.J.;Stein, A.J.;Gibson, R.S.;White, P.J.;Broadley, M.R. Dietary mineral supplies in Africa 2014 32
Hurst, R.;Siyame, E.W.P.;Young, S.D.;Chilimba, A.D.C.;Joy, E.J.M.;Black, C.R.;Ander, L.;Watts, M.J.;Chilima, B.;Gondwe, J.;ombe, D.Kang;Stein, A.J.;Fairweather-Tait, S.J.;Gibson, R.S.;Kalimbira, A.A.;Broadley, M.R. Soil-type influences human selenium status and underlies widespread selenium deficiency risks in Malawi. 2013 25
Siyame, E.W.P.;Hurst, R.;Wawer, A.A.;Young, S.D.;Broadley, M.R.;Chilimba, A.D.C.;Ander, L.E.;Watts, M.J.;Chilima, B.;Gondwe, J.;Kang'ombe, D.;Kalimbira, A.;Fairweather-Tait, S.J.;Bailey, K.B.;Gibson, R.S. A High Prevalence of Zinc- but not Iron-Deficiency among Women in Rural Malawi: a Cross-Sectional Study 2013 9
Joy, E.J.M.;Young, S.D.;Black, C.R.;Ander, L.;Watts, M.J.;Broadley, M.R. Risk of dietary magnesium deficiency is low in most African countries based on food supply data 2012 10
Broadley, M.R.;Chilimba, A.D.C.;Joy, E.J.M.;Young, S.D.;Black, C.R.;Ander, L.;Watts, M.J.;Hurst, R.;Fairweather-Tait, S.J.;White, P.J.;Gibson, R.S. Dietary Requirements for Magnesium, but not Calcium, are Likely to be met in Malawi Based on National Food Supply Data 2012 7
Chilimba, A.D.C.;Young, S.D.;Black, C.R.;Rogerson, K.B.;Ander, L.;Watts, M.J.;Lammel, J.;Broadley, M.R. Maize grain and soil surveys reveal suboptimal dietary selenium intake is widespread in Malawi 2011 30
Name Role Organisation Country
Dr Martin Roger Broadley Malawi
Dr Martin Roger Broadley Lead Principal Investigator University of Nottingham United Kingdom
Dr Elizabeth Louise Ander Co Investigator NERC British Geological Survey United Kingdom
Professor Susan Jane Fairweather-Tait Co Investigator University of East Anglia United Kingdom
Dr Alexander Kalimbira Co Investigator University of Malawi Malawi
Dr MJ Watts Co Investigator NERC British Geological Survey United Kingdom
Dr Scott Young Co Investigator University of Nottingham United Kingdom
Dr Rachel Hurst Researcher University of East Anglia United Kingdom