Following a critical review of the literature (months: 0-4), the student will undertake a short ‘Problem-framing’ field mission to Blantyre and create an Alliance of key stakeholders to support co-design of the planned research activities to ensure that the research is both contextually appropriate and delivers for all stakeholders. Using our established networks via WASHTED at the University of Malawi, the student will enlist stakeholders from the water industry, the local government, the food industry, public health, town planning, local markets and consumer groups. In addition, the student will engage with local urban farmer groups and ensure appropriate representation of small-scale farmers and food producers within the Alliance. The Alliance will become a co-operative that provides the means for discussing options for addressing water quality regulations and water management challenges that both integrate farmer’s needs and concerns, whilst addressing public health risks to the wider community. It is anticipated that the student will bi-annually convene the Alliance for workshops/meetings and that the initiative will continue beyond the lifetime of the project, and thus support long-term real-world impact. Back in the UK, the student will attend a range of training courses plan and design (incl. ethics and risk assessments), the experiments for the next field mission
During an extended fieldwork mission, the student will use satellite images, local information and knowledge from the Alliance to map all areas of wastewater irrigation in the Blantyre municipal area. This will provide data on the extent and spatial distribution of wastewater use. The student will use four case study sites (as agreed within the Alliance) to quantify the dynamics of temporal water quality used for irrigation (e.g. E. coli, faecal coliforms and helminth eggs) and subsequent contamination of vegetables and leafy greens. In addition, transport and sale points of vegetables will be mapped to identify high-risk markets and consumers.
The student will, develop and test context-specific strategies for reducing pathogen transfer, and test the feasibility of strategies to reduce pathogen transfer to vegetable crops (e.g. natural de-contamination from cessation of irrigation, sedimentation ponds, adaptive irrigation methods, activated charcoal), by utilising a citizen science approach among farmers to ensure these methods are fit for purpose. The student will also co-develop an awareness programme with the Stakeholder Alliance (e.g. using a variety of media and social media outlets, radio interviews, posters, workshops) that promote guidelines (e.g. in the form of a simple risk assessment matrix) for farmers and consumers about the potential health impacts of wastewater irrigation. A context-sensitive approach will be used that considers gender, illiteracy and the limited time farmers have available to engage with such programmes.
The student will co-design a strategic ‘National Policy Framework’ with the Stakeholder Alliance that can be translated to other areas in Malawi, and scaled-up to countries where there are similar management pressures to use wastewater resources to increase food security. The remaining time will be spent writing up the thesis and papers for publication.