The global burden of malnutrition remains a significant obstacle to the achievement of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, and we are not on track at present to meet the target of zero hunger by 2030.

One reason for this is that, even where the supply of dietary energy and protein is adequate or better, the supply of key micronutrients – minerals such as Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe) and Selenium (Se), and vitamins, lags behind. This has implications for, among other things, child health, growth and cognitive development, and is estimated to affect billions of people globally.

Within the Division we collaborate globally with nutritionists, soil scientists, agronomists and geochemists to understand the supply of mineral micronutrients from soil to crop to the human population varies in response to environmental conditions and crop management. We examine strategies such as agrofortification of crops with minerals added to the fertilizer, and collaborate in feeding studies to assess the efficacy of these approaches to improving indicators of nutritional status in the human population.

Key aims and expertise

Our work, in the UK, Africa and south Asia, brings together multiple disciplines to address how the whole food system affects people’s micronutrient status. Our objectives are:

  • To understand how spatial variation in the soil and wider environment influences the micronutrient status of populations, and the implications of this for the design of interventions
  • To understand key processes in soil-to-crop transfers of mineral micronutrients, and to assess agrofortification strategies with robust field and glasshouse experiments, and novel analytical approaches
  • To understand how livestock and “climate smart” agricultural practices fit into whole farming systems and influence the micronutrient quality of crops
  • To work with nutritionists, social scientists and other disciplines to ensure that our process-based research is always undertaken in a way that builds integrated understanding of how policy makers and other stakeholders can intervene to improve micronutrient nutrition
  • To develop systems to maximize the availability and useability of data on micronutrients for all stakeholders

Current projects

  • GeoNutrition
  • ZimGRTA
  • BiZiFED
  • MAPS

Significant results

  • A recent paper in Nature reported evidence of marked spatial variation in the micronutrient status of crops and linkages both to soil properties and to bioindicators of status in the human population
  • Recently completed and current PhD projects have addressed how climate smart agricultural strategies, the use of organic inputs in farming systems and the use of mineral micronutrient-enriched fertilizers affect the micronutrient content of staple crops. We have also examined how national-scale information on crop micronutirent content can be most effectively collected and communicated to stakeholders

Current funding

Biofortification with Zinc and Iron for Eliminating Deficiency in Pakistan (BiZIFED2)

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
GeoNutrition - tackling hidden hunger in Sub-Saharan Africahttp://www.geonutrition.com/

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Micronutrient Action Policy Support (MAPS) tool. https://micronutrient.support/

Research Translation Award: Translating GeoNutrition (TGN): Reducing mineral micronutrient deficiencies (MMNDs) in Zimbabwe.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office/Royal Society
Strengthening African capacity in soil geochemistry to inform agriculture and health policies.  




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