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Research strengths secure global challenge funding

 July 20, 2017 | Simon Jenkins


Two significant research projects have been awarded a total of £16million to build resilience in African businesses and communities as part of the University’s commitment to tackling the world’s greatest issues.

The funding is from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5billion Government programme to support research that addresses critical problems in developing countries across the world.

Announcing the funding, part of a £225million package to support research across the UK, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “At a time when the pace of scientific discovery and innovation is quickening, we are placing science and research at the heart of our Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and maintain our status as a science powerhouse.”

Improving forecasting techniques

Developing greater weather forecasting precision, and creating more accurate longer-term forecasts could provide huge benefits to African businesses, small traders and society, strengthening their ability to respond to crises. Weather-sensitive sectors including aviation, solar and hydro-power and agriculture could all grow as a result.

A four year programme to meet these aims, and focussed on Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, has been developed by principal investigator Professor Alan Blyth from the University’s Faculty of Environment and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Professor Doug Parker is its lead scientist.“The developed world has seen a revolution in the skill and impact of weather forecasts over the past decades,” said Professor Parker. “Delivering comparable benefits to people in Africa is a tough challenge which demands collaboration between mathematicians, scientists, forecasters and social scientists.

“The GCRF support will enable academic and operational teams to work together across Africa to improve forecasting skills and bring the benefits to ordinary people.”

Sustainable agricultural systems

Leading an international team, Professor Tim Benton, Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives, is focussed on creating evidence-based policy to develop sustainable, productive, agricultural systems. His team’s research aims to support smallholding farmers in Africa, to meet food security and economic development needs.

Professor Benton said: “This is about weather, climate, agriculture, economic growth, sustainability, livelihoods; with the end-game being how best to design policy for growth that is climate smart and sustainable. We will review what can be done better, given what we know now, and what challenges we will face in the future, and consider how we should prepare for them.”

The project is focussed on Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa and the breadth of the University’s research fields will underpin the project:

  • The Centre for Plant Sciences in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, has significant experience in root biology and how roots affect soil structure and health, knowledge lacking in Africa.
  • The University farm will lead training courses in bioinformatics and agronomic research methods and will provide training for UK and African agronomists.
  • The School of Food Science and Nutrition in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences will develop cheap, innovative storage and processing methods to increase food availability throughout the year, improving food safety and security, and nutritional health.
  • The Faculty of Environment has also provided significant support and leadership to the project.

Global Challenges Research Fund

16 other programmes led by Leeds academics which have also received Global Challenges funding  exemplify the scope of the University’s research and its commitment to quality and having a genuine impact on the world. They include:

  • Studying the conduct of journalism in nations which have received aid funding.
  • Assessing how mountainous regions of Asia can become more resilient to variations in water quality.
  • Tackling anti-microbial resistance in Bangladesh through community clinics.
  • Sourcing data to aid understanding of non-communicable diseases in Nepal, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
  • Improving orchard and crop ecosystems.
  • Developing tools to provide low-cost endoscopy screening for gastric cancer in China.

Leeds is committed to working across disciplines to help tackle global challenges, and is developing its research expertise in seven core areas. These are fields of research which cover cities, climate, culture, energy, food, health and water.

Research strengths secure global challenge funding