Strengthening African capacity in soil geochemistry to inform agriculture and health policies

“Strengthening African capacity in soil geochemistry to inform agriculture and health policies”, funded by the Royal Society – Department for International Development (RS–DFID) Africa Capacity Building Initiative, Round 1 (2015–2020).

Understanding soil geochemical processes is essential to support policies in agriculture (e.g. liming, organic residue incorporation) and public health (e.g. mineral deficiencies and toxicities). We aim to increase knowledge, and strengthen capacity, in soil geochemistry in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A cross-disciplinary doctoral training network encompasses analytical chemistry, geospatial integration and analyses, and soil management and key vocational skills.

This project involves key partners from universities and research institutes, led by the UK, to facilitate capacity strengthening in each of the African countries, centred on one PhD project per country and wider institutional strengthening. The lead project partners include:


  • Prof Martin Broadley (School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham)
  • Dr Michael Watts (Inorganic Geochemistry, British Geological Survey)


  • Dr Patson Nalivata (Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources)
  • Dr Allan Chilimba (Department of Agricultural Research Services, Ministry of Agriculture)


  • Dr Godfrey Sakala (Soils and Water Management Research, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture)
  • Dr Benson H. Chishala, (Land Management Specialist, University of Zambia)
  • Prof Kokoma Maseka (Chemistry Department, Copperbelt University)


  • Prof Paul Mapfumo (Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, University of Zimbabwe)
  • Mr Emmanuel Chikwari (Department of Research and Specialist Services, Chemistry and Soil Research Institute)

Research context and significance

The Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) emphasise the need for improvements in health and wellbeing (SDG #3), and removal of poverty (SDG #1) and hunger (SDG #2). Even where staple food is sufficient, ‘hidden hunger’ from mineral deficiencies (e.g. zinc, iron, iodine, calcium, selenium) is prevalent. These also affect wider SDGs by causing cognitive dysfunction and growth retardation, increased mortality and disease (SDG #4, #5, #10 #15). Soil geospatial drivers of primary production and hidden hunger are widely recognised, e.g. geochemical limits of soil-plant micronutrient transfer. However, understanding/integrating soil geochemical processes at multiple scales for agricultural and health purposes has not yet been achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, due to data gaps and technical/analytical capacity constraints. Understanding soil geochemical processes is essential to support agricultural and public health policies.

Research and training focuses on PhD training to three core projects:

  • Characterising geospatial variation in zinc and iron bioavailability from tropical soils (Zimbabwe) — Muneta Grace Manzeke
  • Understanding the biogeochemical dynamics of selenium and iodine in tropical soils and the effects of soil management (Malawi) — Ivy Ligowe
  • Characterising the mobility of metal bioavailability from tropical soils (Zambia) — Belinda Kaninga

Wider institutional strengthening goals are facilitated by cross institutional-country knowledge exchange. The PhD students will be seconded to the UK for at least four weeks each year and the consortia will meet for an annual network/training event, rotating through the African countries (first network meeting in Harare, Sept 2015). The PhD students will also be encouraged to network across each African country.

Additional PhD projects aligned to this project include:

  • Chromium speciation: understanding the mobility and bioavailability mechanisms for chromium in tropical soils — Elliott Hamilton (part time BGS staff)
  • Development of a urinary selenium bioassay — Felix Phiri (Malawi, Ministry of Health)
  • Iodine dynamics of soil to plant transfer — Olivier Humphrey (Centre for Environmental Geochemistry)

We will update this webpage as more activities are undertaken, enriching the detail on each of the PhD studentships and the work of our project capacity strengthening champions.

Additionally, you can follow us on Twitter using @AfricaGeochem for project updates and tweets related to soil geochemistry and health in sub-Saharan Africa.


Press Release


Need more information?

Please contact the BGS enquiries team

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