Tackling Global Food Security

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Tackling Global Food Security
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A major University of Leeds initiative has joined forces with two leading African scientific organisations and is working to improve human health and prevent future food crises in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa College unites more than 100 experts from academia and not-for-profit organisations from around the world to increase crop harvests by improving food production techniques and enhancing nutrition from the crops - while ensuring minimal impact on the environment.

The partnership’s broad base of cutting-edge and fundamental scientific knowledge, skills and research is already being transferred and applied in sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of the population is undernourished.

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), active in many African countries with its main headquarters in Nigeria, and the Kenya-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) have joined forces with around 75 academics from the University of Leeds working in areas such as plant science, health, ecology, the environment and social policy.

The University of Leeds has also recruited two new members of staff whose main role is to develop the network and build projects in Africa. Christine Foyer has joined the Faculty of Biological Sciences as Professor of Crop Science from Newcastle University, where she was Professor of Molecular Agriculture.

Anne-Marie Mayer has joined the Faculty of Medicine and Health and becomes Africa College’s Senior Research Fellow in Nutrition. Research fellows in other areas, such as food security, are expected to join shortly. A dynamic website - www.africacollege.leeds.ac.uk - has been launched and will be developed to support knowledge exchange.

Africa College was set-up in 2008 and is led by Professor Howard Atkinson of the Faculty of Biological Sciences. He said: “We have a wealth of expertise in Leeds, and aim to apply more of it than in the past through Africa College. We need other international partners to make sure that our research has impact and delivers sustainable, workable solutions to meet African needs.

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“We’re taking a broad and scientifically-based view of enhancing food security. We want to find ways of maximising crop production to provide a balanced diet, improve nutrition and so enhance the health of the people in Africa. At the same time, we’ll be ensuring ecosystems are valued.”

Africa College was originally called Human Health and Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa and was set up with support from the University’s Transformation Fund, which is designed to enable academics to create partnerships on and off campus to tackle major global issues.

Improving future food security will be the team’s focus, amid predictions that the global population could rise from around six billion people today to around 8.3 billion in 2030, with much of the growth in the least-developed countries. It is feared that climate change will affect agricultural production for those people who are most dependent upon it.

Improving understanding of what impact climate change is having on the environment is a major strand of this work. The University of Leeds leads work in this field, and is home to the UK Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, which it runs with the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Professor Foyer said: “Africa College is about providing the knowledge, training and on-going support to enable African people to determine their own futures.

“We are taking the University’s expertise in biotechnology, medicine, ecology, social policy and the environment and combining it with expertise and practical know-how of non-government organisations to make a difference where it matters - on the ground.”

Professor Tim Benton of the Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, Professor Janet Cade of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, Dr Keith Hamer of the Faculty of Biological Sciences, and Dr Andy Dougill of the School of Earth and Environment are leading aspects of Africa College’s development.

Professor Janet Cade said: “This is a challenging and exciting venture. Ensuring that high quality food can be sustainably provided to poor rural and urban communities in Africa is an international priority. We aim to support this through Africa College.”

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