A study by researchers at the Lilongwe University of agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) has recommended adding selenium to fertiliser to boost consumption of the chemical among Malawians.
This follows revelations that most soils in Malawi are deficient in selenium, which results in weak consumption of the chemical by Malawians despite its critical importance in boosting immunity in humans.
Selenium is an essential trace mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. It is an important factor in many body processes.
Selenium increases antioxidant effects in the body. Crab, fish, poultry, and wheat are generally good food sources. The amount of selenium in soil varies, and foods grown in different soils have different selenium levels.
According to the study, while some districts in Malawi have better levels of selenium, the mineral is highly deficient in many districts.
As part of the study, researchers produced maize at Bunda College in Lilongwe using fertiliser mixed with selenium and tested its impact on a community in Wimbe in Kasungu District.
One of the researchers, Alexander Kalimbira, said on Wednesday that adding selenium to fertiliser has proven to be very effective in increasing uptake of the mineral.
Kalimbira said the country needs just to add very small quantities of the mineral to fertiliser per hactare to increase uptake of the mineral by humans.
“At baseline, over 92 percent of participants were selenium deficient. Consumption of biofortfied maize flour led to a large improvement in the selenium status with the prevalence of selenium deficiency falling from 90 to seven percent among adult women and 100 to 19 percent among school-aged children.
“There was no change in selenium status among those receiving control flour,” Kalimbira said.
Another lead researcher, Patson Nalivata, said biofortfied food could help Malawi deal with various diseases that hit patients hard when immunity is very low.
Nalivata cited Finland, where biofortification of food has helped a lot in boosting the immunity of citizens.