Tell us about yourself and your research
I am Muneta Grace Manzeke, a PhD student with the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering. My research aims to explore factors governing micronutrients supply in smallholder farming and food systems. The study responds to critical concerns about prevalence of low dietary zinc (Zn) and iron (Fe) intake among human populations in Southern Africa, largely due to consumption of nutritionally poor staple grains produced on nutrient-poor soils. Running under the title "Geospatial variation of bioavailable micronutrients in tropical soils and its effects on crop productivity and human nutrition, I am conducting my thesis work under two contrasting agro-ecological regions and variable soil types in Hwedza and Mutasa smallholder farming areas of Zimbabwe. Focusing on soil Zn and Fe bioavailability and subsequent crop nutrition, effects of improved agronomic biofortification approaches involving use of micronutrient fertilizers, locally available organic nutrient resources and nitrogen supplying fertilizers on cereal and legume grain Zn and Fe nutrition are being tested on-farm.
What have been the defining moments in your career since you have been awarded the Royal Society-DFID funded grant?
Working with smallholder communities has made me explore the heterogeneity of farming systems in Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, and their effects on bioavailability of soil Zn and Fe and crop Zn and Fe nutrition. Regional and international recognition of my research work by private fertilizer and research organizations including the International Fertiliser Society’s Brian Chambers Award (2015), the International Plant Nutrition Institute Scholar Award (2016) and the Marschner Young Scientist Award (2017) has made me realize how my small pieces of research contribute to a larger debate on efforts to alleviate endemic micronutrient malnutrition or “hidden hunger” in the Southern African region.
What impact will your research have in the future and what gaps have you been closing thanks to it?
Findings from my study will contribute to a new thinking on how agronomic biofortification approaches with micronutrient fertilizers could be targeted on specific agro-ecological regions and farming systems to enhance crop and human Zn and Fe nutrition, in ways that are accessible to different farmer social groups. In addition, my research work, which focuses on soil geochemistry and micronutrient management, aims to inform agriculture and health policies on potential role of soils, micronutrient fertilizers and organic nutrient resources to supply Zn and Fe and contribute to dietary Zn intake among communities reliant on plant-based diets. My wish is to play a key role in manipulating science in agriculture to make nutritious foods more accessible to common people in developing countries, particularly Africa.
What difference has the funding from the Royal Society-DFID, and being part of an Africa Capacity Building Initiative Consortia, made to you?
Being a PhD student funded under the Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative has brought countless opportunities which include technical capacity building skills gained through exchange visits to the University of Nottingham and the British Geological survey and other collaborating institutions within my research program. My study findings to date reveal a lot about the effects of the dynamic nature of agro-ecologies and farming systems on crop Zn and Fe nutrition. I am now able to understand and manipulate primary factors governing soil micronutrients supply and crop nutrition and implement “site specific” agronomic biofortification interventions which efficiently improve grain Zn and Fe for the benefit of the farming family. The multi-disciplinary nature of my supervisory team from both my local institution and UK institutions is amazing. This has significantly improved my scientific writing and analytical skills since embarking on my studies. I have met and learnt a lot from other members in different consortia within the Africa Capacity Building Initiative, especially during our first award holders meeting in 2017 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, what advice would you give other aspiring female scientists in achieving their goals?
Being a female scientist is both interesting and challenging. It is really important to be sure whether you have both the passion and determination before embarking on your research. No matter the nature of “success” and challenges you go through, these two are what will keep you going when the journey becomes tough. When I started off this PhD journey, I cannot say I had it in me to keep going until the end. It is the same determination and encouragement mainly from my family and friends, fellow students and mentors which kept me going until this day. Where there is a will, there is “always” a way.
Who has been an inspiration to you?
My supervisor has been inspiring me to be confident and strong in instances I felt I cannot make it.