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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

UFS PhD student receives more than R5,8 million to take agricultural research to African farmers
2015-07-06

Prof Maryke Labuschagne and Bright Peprah. (Photo: Supplied)

Bright Peprah, a Plant Breeding PhD student from Ghana in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State received an award from the competitive Program for Emerging Agricultural Research Leaders (PEARL) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) for one of his projects.

From the more than 750 proposals for funding that were received from African researchers, only 19 received funding from PEARL. PEARL is an agricultural initiative by the BMGF to take agricultural research products to African farmers. It also aims at involving the youth and women in agriculture.

Peprah’s proposal to introgress beta carotene into farmer-preferred cassava landraces was part of the final 19 proposals funded. The project is being led by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)Crops Research Institute (CRI), and has the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as international partners with Peprah as the principal investigator.


The development of nutrient-dense cassava cultivars needs attention to eliminate the ramifications of malnutrition among the poor in an inexpensive and more sustainable way.
Photo: Supplied

He received $473 000 (R5,8 million) for his project on the improvement of beta-carotene content in cassava.

Peprah decided on this project because the populations of underdeveloped and developing countries, such as Ghana, commonly suffer undernourishment and/or hidden hunger, predisposing them to diseases from micronutrients deficiencies. “Vitamin A deficiency constitutes an endemic public health problem which affects women and children largely,” he says.

“In Africa, cassava is widely consumed by the populace. Unfortunately, in these areas, malnutrition is endemic to a significant extent, partly due to the low micronutrients in this tuberous root crop, which is a major component of most household diets. It is for this reason that the development of nutrient- dense cassava cultivars needs much attention to eliminate the ramifications of malnutrition among the poor in an inexpensive and more sustainable way.

“To date we have selected top eight genotypes from germplasm collected from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) which are high in carotenoids and also poundable, a key trait to Ghanaian farmers. These eight genotypes have been planted at different locations in Ghana, and being evaluated by different stakeholders (consumers, researchers, producers, commercial farmers, processors, etc.). If found suitable, the genotypes will be released to farmers, which we hope will solve some of the micronutrient problems in Ghana.

“My projects seek to develop new cassava varieties that will have both high dry matter and beta carotene which has been reported to be negatively correlated (as one increase, the other decreases). The breeding method will be crossing varieties that are high in beta carotene with those with high dry matter, and checking the performance of the seedlings later. Developing such new varieties (yellow flesh cassava) will increase their adoption rate by Ghanaian farmers,” he said.

Prof Maryke Labuschagne, Professor in Plant Breeding in the Department Plant Sciences and Peprah’s study leader, said: “This project has the potential to alleviate vitamin A deficiency in the West African region, where this deficiency is rampant, causing blindness in many people, especially children."

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