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

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haematology, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2015), £700,521

Sheena Radford, Mark Harris, Peter Stockley, Alan Berry, Alex O'Neill, Thomas Edwards, Adrian Goldman, Anastasia Zhuravleva, Wellcome Trust (Jan 2015), £443,015

Bill Kunin, EU (Jan 2015), £157,490

John Colyer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Fund (Jan 2015), £40,000

Chris Hassall, Royal Society (Dec 2014), £14,500

Ryan Seipke, Royal Society (Nov 2014), £13,700

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865

Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £396,565

Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stckley, Sheena Radford, Nic Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £340,937

Les Firbank, Joe Holden, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £210,302

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Chemistry and Pathology, anatomy and Tumour Biology, Dr Hadwen Trusy (Oct 2014), £194,475

Paul Knox, EU (Oct 2014), £167,229

Martin Stacey and colleagues in Medicine & Health, Pfizer (Oct 2014), £90,453

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Experimental Oncology, YCR (Oct 2014), £69,480

Andrew Macdonald, Jamel Mankouri, Kidney Research Fund UK (Oct 2014), £58,878

Mike McPherson and colleagues in Dentistry and Engineering, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £58,437

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haemotology, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2014), £281,424

Emmanuel Paci and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £636,759

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £371,598

Lars Jeuken, Stephen Evans, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £333,684

Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £313,463

Michelle Peckham, Mark Harris, Rao Sivaprasadarao, Eileen Ingham, Nic Stonehouse, Nikita Gamper, Wellcome Trust (Sep 2014), £192,763

Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Aug 2014), £355,253

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094

Darren Tomlinson, Mike McPherson, Technology Strategy Board (Aug 2014), £98,665

Peter Henderson, Leverhulme Trust (Aug 2014), £15,222

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

Peter Stockley, Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Jul 2014), £455,787

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

Ryan Seipke, British Society Antimicrobial Chemistry (Jun 2014), £11,960

John Trinick, BHF (Jun 2014), £222,614

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

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

Christine Foyer, Royal Society (May 2014), £24,000

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