PhD students at Nottingham could help solve world hunger

30 Apr 2018 10:28:05.987

A £5 million investment to create 25 new studentships and expand a fellowship scheme will open up opportunities for international research in agriculture.

The University of Nottingham is working with Rothamsted Research to create a Graduate Centre for International Agriculture (GCIA). Rothamsted is a world-leading, non-profit research centre focussing on strategic agricultural science to the benefit of farmers and society worldwide.

The newly formed GCIA is part of the Future Food Beacon of Excellence launched by the University in June which will tackle global challenges in international agricultural development.

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Such challenges include tackling ‘hidden hunger’ in Africa as demonstrated through the work of Professor Martin Broadley who has had a long partnership with Rothamsted.

Professor Broadley’s work looks at understanding how nutrients are transferred from the soil, into plants and then into foods to help tackle dietary deficiencies.

He is working with soil scientists at Rothamsted Research, including Professor Steve McGrath, and with an environmental statistician, Professor Murray Lark, who uses statistical models to predict spatial variations of nutritional status and to understand how these arise.

True collaboration

Professor Broadley explains how both natural and social sciences are necessary to help solve the issue of hidden hunger.

He said: “Reducing hidden hunger, or micronutrient deficiencies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, remains a huge challenge. We are conducting research on trying to tackle this challenge, together with colleagues at Rothamsted, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, BGS, and academic and government partners in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“We call our approach GeoNutrition. Natural scientists in the team are exploring soil, agricultural and landscape datasets to understand how these spatial factors affect micronutrient supplies into cropping and food systems. Social scientists are seeking to understand how urbanization, gender, demographic change, market access, and policy decisions influence nutritional pathways, and downstream health and economic outcomes. By layering and integrating datasets, GeoNutrition can inform policies to improve dietary supplies of micronutrients, including dietary diversification, food fortification, and biofortification through breeding or altered fertiliser usage.”

Professor Lark, who is a renowned expert in geostatistics and a Fellow of the Institute of Soil Science, is currently at the British Geological Society (BGS) but will join the Future Food Beacon and the University of Nottingham in December.

Professor David Salt, Director of the Future Food Beacon, said: “The work of Martin, Steve, Murray, and others, in Ethiopia, Malawi and elsewhere, shows what can be achieved through collaborations with the leading experts in agricultural development, and then using this expertise on an international scale.

“Nottingham’s GCIA partnership with Rothamsted is an important step in the Future Food Beacon’s plans to make a real difference to tackling global issues such as hidden hunger.”


The funding, £3million of which is coming from the beacon, will fund 25 Lawes and Gilbert PhD Studentships (five per year across five years).

It will also contribute to the Lawes Trust International Fellowship scheme in supporting up to six fellows per year.

Muneta Grace Manzeke is one student who has benefitted from such a fellowship. She is currently studying at the University of Zimbabwe, and working with Nottingham and BGS on a project sponsored by the Royal Society and the Department for International Development (DFID). She will join the Future Food Beacon at Nottingham in December. Grace was also recently one of four winners of the 2017 Marschner Awards for Nurturing Young Talent, and previously a recipient of a major award from the International Fertiliser Society. Grace’s internationally leading work on smallholder systems in Zimbabwe again exemplifies the opportunities and achievements which could be made through the GCIA.

The launch of the GCIA will take place on September 19th at Rothamsted when academics and prospective researchers will share their projects and expertise to find key collaborators.

Freddie Theodoulou, is Leader of Tailoring Plant Metabolism, one of Rothamsted’s five strategic research programmes and is responsible for postgraduate education.

She said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to strengthen Rothamsted’s longstanding, successful relationship with the University of Nottingham and it’s great that we can offer the studentships to overseas applicants. This will bring a strong international perspective and help us to make a difference to agricultural development where it is most needed.”

Professor Salt said: “Working in this way means that the possibilities for research are wide open. We have an open vision for the beacon and meeting such as this will help define the key projects we develop based on productive interactions and on the expertise we have.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for PhD students and early-career researchers to get involved in projects that are tackling some really important issues that have the potential to make a positive impact on millions of people in the developing world.”

To find out more, get involved contact Simon Ridgway, Head of Operations for the Beacon of Excellence or visit the Future Food website.

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