Ecosystem services to alleviate iodine, selenium and zinc malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa
This project was part of the ESPA scoping phase, which ran between 2008 and 2011. The resulting proposal for further funding was unsuccessful.
This Partnership and Project Development (PPD) grant ran for six months. The funds supported the formation of a new multinational consortium.
The primary output of this grant was a Research Consortium Grant (RCG) application. 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 Iodine (I)/Selenium (Se)/Zinc (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 faces 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 in 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, remain unexplored.