News / Africa

Scientists Suggest Adding Selenium to Diets in Malawi

x

Multimedia

Audio
Kim Lewis
Scientists say adding a naturally-occurring mineral to fertilizers could help reduce disease and death among Malawians.   It’s all part of an international study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. on the nutritional value of soil in Malawi.  The report has found that dietary deficiency of the mineral selenium, which plays a vital role in keeping the immune system healthy, is endemic in Malawi.  

The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that most Malawi soils do not have an adequate amount of selenium required for human nutrition. In the report, researchers are calling for further investigation into the benefits and costs of enriching crops with selenium through fertilizers. 

Dr. Martin Broadley, one of the lead researcher of the study at the University of Nottingham’s school of biosciences said, “one of the issues is the natural acidity of the soil in Malawi and in many areas.  So it may be that there is rather a lot of selenium around in terms of the total concentration in the soil, but in terms of the amount of selenium that is available to be taken up by plants, that could be very, very low.”     

The study examined the diet and nutritional status of a total of 120 relatively healthy women between 18 and 50 years of age living in villages in Zombwe in northern Malawi and Mikalango in the south.

“It was a joint study with several collaborating groups in Malawi itself, and we were working with the Ministry of Health, and with Lilongwe University. Our colleagues from those organizations spent a period of time in the homes of volunteers from two different regions:  one region where the soils were very, very acidic, and where we had previously observed very low transfer of the element  selenium into the local crop, and one area where the soils were much more alkaline,” explained Broadley.

“Our colleagues,” he continued, “spent time and a period of 24 hours with each of the volunteers of the study and were able to collect samples of food and drink that were consumed in the home over that period.  And we were also able to collect blood and urine samples from the volunteers.”

Generally speaking, scientists have found that a lack of proper levels of selenium in the body adversely affects the immune system.  As a result, people tend to be more susceptible to infectious diseases and cardiovascular problems.  One example of where enriched crops are showing success is in Finland.

“For the past 30 years, they have been using micronutrients, enriched fertilizers, to make sure that adequate levels of selenium were going into the diet.  So the technology is in place.  What isn’t known is the benefit cost of analysis of adopting something like this approach, said Broadley.

In Malawi, the staple maize, dominates the diet.  But, Broadley said the key to a healthier diet and to getting more selenium is to eat a larger variety of foods.

“People have to try and diversify their diets as much as possible, and that may mean trying to eat more fish, or more animal produce of some description, or more vegetables, or more nuts—that type of thing, which general have high levels of selenium in them.  And we’re going to be a long way short of adequate intakes without some radical changes in the intakes of the Malawi population.  And, again, you are dealing with a situation in Malawi where many people are living on extremely low income levels, and don’t have access to sufficient purchasing power to be able to afford to buy such a diverse range of foods,” Broadley explained.  

He also pointed out that a lot more research needs to be conducted to identify whether the cost of adding or changing the existing fertilizer practices in Malawi would be the most beneficial approach to improving the nutritional value of crops.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid