Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

£2.8million study to combat global food poverty

10th June 2008

The University of Leeds Transformation Fund will bring together researchers from medicine, plant science, ecology, social policy and the environment to focus on preventing future food crises in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Human Health and Food Security Research Programme, funded with the University's own money and resources, will examine how food production can be improved to ensure growers obtain the maximum nutritional value from their crops, as well as minimising damage to existing ecosystems. Partnerships with African universities and institutes are being developed to enable researchers to enhance research capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN estimates that the current global food crisis has plunged an extra 100 million people into poverty across the globe. Drought and unpredictable weather patterns are having a major impact on the global harvest. In turn, lack of natural resources often leads African farmers to use their land in unsustainable ways, overusing it until crop yields decline severely.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 33 per cent of all Sub-Saharan Africans are undernourished.

Project leader Professor Howard Atkinson says, "Researchers from the School of Medicine will ensure that the programme has a strong emphasis on ensuring a nutritious diet free of fungal toxins and parasites to add to efforts of plant scientists on improving the yield of African staple crops."

Many of the crops that survive well under stressful climatic conditions are not the ones that provide the healthiest diet: for example cassava survives well in dry conditions but is not particularly nutritious.

The Human Health and Food Security Research Programme is one of four projects being paid for via the University's pioneering Transformation Fund which is supporting research into major global issues of our time. The fund is unique in that it comes from the University rather than corporate or government sponsors.

Professor Tim Benton, Pro-Dean for Research in the Faculty of Biological Sciences says, "If we consider all the problems facing the future of food production, from a growing world population, through to climate change and increased use of land for the production of bio-fuels, then by the middle of this century we will need perhaps ten times the amount of agricultural land we currently use. But there is only a maximum of about two times the land available - including all the land currently covered by rainforest. This is set against a background of an intrinsic danger of trying to increase food production too fast and therefore destroying the future fertility of land used in food production. The research project is about trying to find a way of increasing output sufficient for a healthy diet without destroying ecosystems."

"Most current agricultural research looks at Western needs rather than the needs of the developing world, which is another reason why this programme is exceptional," he adds.

This is especially important in areas where the land is becoming more arid, as in Africa. Over-grazing can lead to loss of vegetation, which in turn means the soil fails to hold together and can be blown away. Recovery time where soil is lost in this way can be up to hundreds of thousands of years.


Recent Grants

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Medimmune Ltd (Apr 2014), £337,661

Peter Stockley, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £251,019

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £146,596

Andrew Macdonald, Kidney Research Fund UK (Apr 2014), £127,237

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in School of Design), Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £114,350

Paul Millner, Peter Stockley, Darren Tomlinson, YCR (Apr 2014), £95,874

Carrie Ferguson, Karen Birch, Shaunna Burke, Heart Research UK (Apr 2014), £60,140

Dave Westhead, MRC (Apr 2014), £18,304

Brendan Davies, BBSRC (Mar 2014), £451,829

Jim Deuchars, MRC (Mar 2014), £300,000

Adam Kupinski, Children with Cancer (Mar 2014), £50,000

Alison Baker, Steve Baldwin, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £403,439

Sarah Zylinski, BBSRC (Feb 2014), £355,869

Dave Lewis, Nigel Hooper, Tony Turner, Hugh Pearson, James Duce, Alzheimer's Society (Feb 2014), £29,871

Ronaldo Ichyama, Samit Chakrabarty, International Spinal Research Trust (Jan 2014), £304,600

Brendan Davies, BBSRC/Bayer Crop Science SA-NV (Jan 2014), £470,053

Adrian Goldman, Steve Baldwin, Stephen Muench, Thomas Edwards, Arwen Pearson , BBSRC (Jan 2014), £467,103

Stefan Kepinski, BBSRC (Jan 2014), £359,269

Elwyn Isaac, EU (Jan 2014), £179,445

Dave Westhead, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Jan 2014), £105,937

John Barr, Thomas Edwards, MRC (Dec 2013), £469,505

Alex O'Neill, MRC (Dec 2013), £349,017

Darren Tomlinson, Yorkshire Cancer Research (Nov 2013), £142,334

Nikita Gamper, MRC (Nov 2013), £336,563

Keith Hamer, Alison Dunn, NERC (Nov 2013), £47,233

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2013), £749,365

Urwin, Howard Atkinson, BBSRC (Oct 2013), £360,508

Eileen Ingham, Stacey-Paul Wilshaw, NHS R&D (Oct 2013), £356,623

Sheena Radford, BBSRC (Oct 2013), £329,906

Nigel Hooper, Alzheimer's Research (Oct 2013), £327,075

Eileen Ingham, EPSRC (Oct 2013), £276,751

David Beech, BHF (Oct 2013), £109,974

Mark Harris, Medical Research Foundation (Oct 2013), £34,455

James Dachtler, Royal Society (Oct 2013), £15,000

Ade Whitehouse, Teresa Rosenbaum Golden Charitable Trust (Oct 2013), £10,000

Jurgen Denecke, BBSRC (Sep 2013), £382,093

Andy Cuming, EU (Sep 2013), £257,714

Paul Knox, BBSRC (Sep 2013), £411,948

Vas Ponnambalam, Leverhulme Trust (Sep 2013), £245,031

Peter Meyer, EU (Sep 2013), £242,166

Dave Rowlands, Nic Stonehouse, EU (Sep 2013), £202,556

Derek Steele, BHF (Sep 2013), £103,629

Joan Boyes, NC3Rs (Sep 2013), £90,000

Peter Stockley, Royal Society (Sep 2013), £11,400

Darren Tomlinson, Leverhulme Trust (Sep 2013), £5,645

Nic Stonehouse, Dave Rowlands, BBSRC (Aug 2013), £574,906

Eileen Ingham, Wellcome Trust (Aug 2013), £191,470

Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Aug 2013), £75,000

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Aug 2013), £40,000

Alison Ashcroft, Sheena Radford, Peter Henderson, BBSRC (Jul 2013), £462,248

Stacey-Paul Wilshaw, Wellcome Trust (Jul 2013), £180,690

Sheena Radford, US National Institutes of Health (Jul 2013), £161,866

Eileen Ingham, Wellcome Trust (Jul 2013), £95,261

Dave Lewis, Higher Education Academy (Jul 2013), £6,178

Alex O'Neill, EU (Jun 2013), £471,718

Andrew Macdonald, Breast Cancer Campaign (Jun 2013), £19,952

John Altringham, DEFRA Dept for Env. Food & Rural Affairs (May 2013), £127,945

Sheena Radford, EU (May 2013), £2,032,465

Michelle Peckham, Gareth Howell, Roman Tuma, David Beech, Nigel Hooper, MRC (May 2013), £893,675

Sarah Calaghan, Derek Steele, BHF (May 2013), £208,005

Andrew Peel, EU (May 2013), £79,147

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