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Global issues to be tackled in ambitious research programme

An academic from the University of East Anglia is part of a consortium that has won a £6.5m grant to look at food security in India.

The funding, announced today by Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson, has been awarded by Research Councils UK as part of its Global Challenges Research Fund. The £225 million initiative aims to build upon research knowledge in the UK, and strengthen capacity overseas, to help address challenges, informed by expressed need in the developing countries.

In one of the most ambitious international research programmes ever created, 37 projects will see leading experts from the UK and in developing countries joining forces to tackle some of the most serious global issues, in fields such as health, humanitarian crises, conflict, the environment, the economy, domestic violence, society, and technology.

Prof Nitya Rao, of UEA’s School of International Development, is part of a team led by the University of Cambridge looking at how to bring about a second ‘Green Revolution’ in India.

The first - in India and other developing countries in the 1960s - brought a massive increase in crop production that sustained the country’s mushrooming population. But now there are new pressures, not just the need to produce even more food, but to reduce the damage done by excessive use of pesticides, fertiliser and water in the face of climate change.

The project - Transforming Indian's Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable Food Supplies (TIGR2ESS) - is a collaboration between UK and Indian scientists. It seeks to frame the big question - how to bring about a second Green revolution - in all its breadth and depth. India is developing fast and agriculture needs to take account of urbanisation, for example, which has drawn many people away from the land. Smallholder farmers, particularly women, need smart technologies to sustain crop yields, and improve health and nutrition.

Prof Rao is co-leading two of the work packages relating to defining the agenda and impacting the wellbeing of rural and urban communities through improved nutrition outcomes.  She said: “India represents a paradox. Despite significant economic growth over the past few decades, rates of malnutrition remain amongst the highest in the world and a majority of adult women are anaemic.

“Recent years have witnessed an agrarian crisis in capital investment, water resource management and research/extension services, aggravated by climate change. Men are migrating in large numbers to urban areas and farm labour is increasingly feminised. Yet women are not recognised as farmers, they lack access to farming resources and services, and importantly, their needs and interests are not prioritised in agricultural research.

“This grant gives us the opportunity to reframe the agenda, taking account of the realities of urbanisation and technological change, amongst others, to support smallholder farmers, particularly women, to both sustain crop yields, and improve health and nutrition outcomes. It will also provide us with an opportunity to develop culturally relevant and sensitive programmes for health and literacy workers.”

The TIGR2ESS project will support basic research programmes and provide advice to local communities. There will be opportunities for academic exchanges, mentoring and career development for scientists from both countries. Links with the relevant government ministries in India, plus industrial connections built into the programme, will aim to turn the best recommendations into reality. 

Project lead Prof Howard Griffiths, co-chair of the University of Cambridge’s Strategic Initiative in Global Food Security, said: “We are extremely pleased that the TIGR2ESS programme will help to deliver our vision for partnerships with institutions in India to improve crop science and food security.” 

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