Research platform 1: integrated resource management in eastern Africa

Plants in Zambia

Eastern African landscape

Eastern Africa faces severe natural-resource challenges due to exponential population growth, rapid urbanisation, and economic development. We aim to improve human welfare and future economic development by characterising natural resources in the context of a changing natural and social environment.


Joseph Mankelow (RP1 lead and team leader for minerals resources and policy)

Joseph Mankelow

Joseph's work lies in public-sector, mineral-endowment management and governance. He has extensive international technical-assistance experience gained through projects in Zambia, Mauritania, Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Liberia, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

Alan MacDonald (RP1 co-investigator and principal hydrogeologist)

Alan MacDonald

Alan's research is focused on groundwater science for environmental change and poverty reduction. He has led research projects funded by DFID, NERC, WB, AusAid, Scottish Government, and UNICEF.

Michael Watts (RP1 co-investigator and head of inorganic geochemistry)

Michael Watts

Michael is a senior geochemist with a research focus on exposure to anthropogenic and geogenic harmful elements, and supply of nutrients through food production to target 'hidden hunger'.

RP1 current activities

Improving and ensuring the security of groundwater resources

Groundwater storage in Africa

This programme of research will investigate multi-stressor pressures and natural controls on the security of water resources in Africa and corresponding effects. In time an integrated catchment-based approach will be developed that:

  • translates relevant techniques and methods developed in other parts of the world
  • links water with food, energy and resources

There are multiple, interacting drivers of environmental change associated with the growing African population, such as increased living standards, urbanisation, and the frequency of droughts and floods. Water resources, including groundwater, are linked to other critical, natural resources such as energy and food. Understanding synergies and trade-offs between water, energy and food production is essential to the successful management of our finite natural resources.

The research will build on an existing, highly successful programme of work to:

  • improve understanding of how groundwater increases the resilience of communities and agriculture, focusing first on East Africa
  • investigate the constraints on developing groundwater
  • develop tools and technologies to investigate how climate affects groundwater

Micronutrients, environment, and oesophageal cancer (MOCA)

Key advances in environmental geoscience lie at the nexus of geochemistry (soil, water, sediment), health (nutrition, toxicology, epidemiology), and agriculture (crops, livestock).

The BGS and our research partners are undertaking an integrated approach to risk assessment and public policy, including:

  • capturing and integrating soil geochemical processes across multiple scales
  • developing a predictive model of soil-to-plant micronutrient and environmental pathways of contaminant exposure, in order to assess health consequences (e.g. oesophageal cancer incidence)
  • supporting policies in agriculture (e.g. agri-strategies) and public health surveillance (e.g. geochemical maps to relate to biomonitoring data)

Read more about our micronutrient research:

Mineral fertilisers for food security

Weeding a field

A major factor in food security on smallholder farms in eastern African countries is their significantly smaller yields, when compared with those of more developed nation states. Typically, smallholders cannot afford to purchase sufficient traditional fertilisers sold on global markets to maintain concentrations of major soil nutrients for enhancing crop yield; long-distance transport of fertilisers significantly increases their market cost. Lack of access to affordable fertiliser in Africa is an acute problem, resulting in low fertiliser application rates.

Increasing the use of indigenous, lower-cost sources of mineral fertilisers is recognised as one of the main ways to enhance crop yields in eastern Africa. BGS research will investigate the potential for indigenous mineral deposits being used to produce a cost-effective source of fertiliser nutrients to increase yields on smallholder farms. Our aim is to enhance understanding of the efficient use of indigenous fertiliser both in terms of supply and the minimisation of nutrient losses from the land, which can be a source of pollution.

Understanding critical metals in post-collisional and extensional settings in eastern Africa

Global demand for 'critical' or 'technology' metals is growing rapidly from a low base. In eastern Africa this is manifested through commercial exploration interest in rare earth elements and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of tungsten, tin and tantalum.

The planned research will enhance the understanding of the location, extent and geometallurgy of critical-metal resources in eastern Africa, their regional prospectivity and their relationship to resource corridors. Findings will inform natural-resource governance and management with, in the context of critical and associated metals, special emphasis on managing the impacts of ASM.

Crucially, this work will utilise synergies with an existing portfolio of NERC and EU grant-funded research on metallogenesis and geometallurgy in analogous environments.

Improving the assessment of renewable geothermal energy resources

High heat flow from shallow magma systems along the African Rift Valley drives a number of natural hydrothermal systems, presenting opportunities in terms of sources of indigenous, non-fossil-fuel energy supply. Exploiting these resources for electricity can improve living standards and increase power for industry. The warm water that remains after power generation can also be used locally, for example in fisheries, agriculture and tourism (thermal spas).

Exploration and development of these systems ranges from almost zero through to a few installed power plants. A number of research opportunities exist in areas from exploration and early-stage resource assessment to assessment for 'next generation' magma-thermal energy techniques.

Assessing the extent of high-enthalpy African geothermal systems, the current development stage of these systems, and existing sources of geoscience information about specific geothermal systems will allow us to identify future research requirements for maximising the contributions geothermal systems could make to future energy supply.

Workshops to investigate the geoscience research priorities of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

SDG workshop

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious set of 17 goals and 169 targets agreed by members of the United Nations in September 2015. Over a 15-year timeframe (2015–2030), the SDGs aim to eradicate global poverty, end unsustainable consumption patterns, and facilitate sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Many of the SDGs are connected to geological research and practice. Goals with a geological component include:

  • zero hunger
  • good health and wellbeing
  • clean water and sanitation
  • affordable and clean energy
  • responsible consumption and production
  • economic growth
  • infrastructure
  • sustainable cities

Three two-day stakeholder workshops (held in Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania) have drawn together representatives from five eastern African countries to determine how geological science can help support sustainable-development priorities in eastern Africa. Dialogue with stakeholders from government, academia, international organisations, industry and civil society have allowed us to identify regional and national development challenges, understand how geoscience research can help to tackle these challenges, and explore future opportunities for science-for-development collaborations.

A collaborative partnering approach towards African geodata

Uganda workshop

Geoscientific data (geodata) represents just one of the components required to make informed, strategic decisions to drive economic and social development and ensure environmental protection.

Working in partnership with the African Union Commission and the Ugandan Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, the BGS facilitated a workshop in Entebbe, Uganda, to bring together multiple stakeholders (from government, international organisations and the private sector) from across Africa to identify innovative ways of managing and delivering geodata that contribute to social and economic structural transformation, wealth creation and poverty reduction.

Over the two days of the workshop, six key topics were discussed:

  • data requirements
  • data management and technology innovation
  • business case
  • business model (public–private partnership)
  • capacity building
  • future research

A major outcome of this workshop was the decision to implement a geodata portal pilot study using Ugandan data. The stakeholder team (African Union Commission, Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines Uganda, Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, BGS, International Geoscience Services, Geosoft) are in the process of developing and implementing the geodata portal, with a view to launching the pilot study at the end of the year.

Informatics to inform science and underpin policy (cross-cutting activity)

OneGeology portal

The management, integration and use of earth-science data is a core BGS capability. The BGS are responsible for the professional curation of the large volumes of digital and analogue data produced during past UK Government-funded ODA projects.

Leveraging our existing networks of knowledge and expertise such as OneGeology, we will enable ODA partners to utilise geospatial technology and computing systems to accelerate the spread of essential geoscience data for the benefit of society. Through the use of modern data translation techniques (e.g. scanning and semantic mark-up of maps and reports, 3D imaging and vectorisation of rock samples, conversion of born-digital data to international data-transfer standards) and new information delivery methods appropriate to ODA partner infrastructure (e.g. mobile apps, interoperable web services), new and innovative digital-access solutions will be developed that embed geoscience data in policy development and wider ODA-related research.

Understanding the impact of extreme droughts on rural water insecurity in Ethiopia

El Nino study area in Ethiopia

The 2015/16 El Nino led to widespread food and water insecurity in Ethiopia, particularly in rural areas where provision of assistance is most difficult (Figure 1). Groundwater is considered to be a resilient source of drinking water and able to buffer inter-annual changes in rainfall. However, the impact of extreme climate events on groundwater and the resilience of different groundwater sources are during periods of stress is poorly understood. BGS are examining how springs, shallow wells and boreholes responded to the drought.

Funded by NERC and DFID, the BGS and our research partners from Addis Ababa University, the Overseas Development Institute and Reading University, are investigating how groundwater responds to extreme climate events. This project has involved the collection of new observations, including high frequency groundwater level monitoring (Figure 2) and indicators of groundwater residence time, which have been collected since the 2015/16 El Nino. This information, combined with conventional stable isotope and geochemistry data collected throughout the drought and subsequent recovery will then be used to provide an assessment of groundwater vulnerability to drought.


Contact for more information or to get involved.