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Queens Anniversary Prizes 2015

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Professor Steven Belmain

Professor of Ecology
Agriculture, Health & Environment Department
Natural Resources Institute


Professor Steven Belmain completed his BA at the University of Vermont in 1990 before joining the Peace Corps and living in Mali, where his scientific interests became irreversibly entwined with overseas development. He then obtained an MSc and PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Since joining NRI in 1998, Professor Belmain has become one of the leading international scientists researching the ecology of rodents as pests in agriculture and as disease vectors, with research activities across Asia and Africa aimed at helping rural and urban communities to overcome their pest problems. His research has been crucial in understanding the transmission risks of zoonoses as well as understanding the fundamental drivers of rodent population outbreaks. Professor Belmain also carries out research on the chemical ecology and behaviour of insects, and optimising the indigenous use of pesticidal plants.

As a principal investigator, Professor Belmain has travelled extensively across the world working on collaborative projects with counterparts in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Swaziland, Madagascar, Malawi, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, France and Australia. Professor Belmain has led many large multi-national and multi-disciplinary research projects with funding won from a wide range of donors including the UK's Department for International Development, the European Commission RTD Framework and EuropeAid EDF programmes, UNDP, WHO, and the McKnight Foundation. Dr Belmain's collaborations across entomology, small mammal ecology, and eco-epidemiology of zoonoses have led to a number of scientific publications, with an overall H-index of 16 and i-10 index of 23 (

Links to publications can be found via and

Professor Belmain has given more than 30 presentations at scientific conferences, including several invited plenary and keynote addresses, and has led the organisation of several international conferences and workshops such as the International Conference on Rodent Biology and Management, the African Small Mammal Symposium, the International Conference on Pesticidal Plants, Impacts of Rodent Outbreaks on Food Security in Asia, and Rats and Human Health in Africa. Of particular note was the invitation to give the 22nd Annual MacCarthy Lecture in Pest Management at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, on 12 March 2012.

Professor Belmain's research has attracted much media interest including articles on BBC Earth News, BBC News Magazine, Science Magazine and many radio and TV interviews, e.g. the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation Quirks and Quarks programme and the BBC World Service's Science in Action and In The Field series. His efforts to raise awareness about rodents with the wider public are most notable in a 45-minute nature documentary commissioned for the Discovery Channel, Swarmchasers: Rats! The programme was first broadcast in the USA on 13 January 2011 and subsequently translated into 25 languages for broadcast to over 50 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. Most recently he has appeared on ITV's Tonight news programme, The Rise of the Super Rats (

Research/Scholarly Interests

Professor Belmain's entomology interests are mainly focused on the chemical ecology and behaviour of insects, such as host orientation behaviour and optimising the use of plants with insecticidal properties. See and for details about a project in Africa that aims to improve the way farmers use local plants for pest control.
The use of plants for medicines and pest management has a long tradition and can be a cheap way for farmers to improve their yields. However, the production of bioactive chemicals in plants varies with climate and location and some popular wild plants can suffer from over-collection. His research aims to increase knowledge on the best ways of using pesticidal plants in order to help African farmers whilst ensuring the supply of high quality natural products.

More recently Professor Belmain has been involved in research on pollination biology and in a project that aims to improve the pollination of cocoa flowers to improve yields. See for more details about this project based in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. If the project is successful in improving pod set and quality through better pollination, farmer incomes can rise without the need to expand cocoa plantations into virgin forest.

With rodents transmitting more than 60 diseases to people and domestic animals, damaging food production systems and exacerbating sanitation problems, few would argue that society's rat problems have been solved. But overcoming the challenges posed by rodents to our livelihoods is possible. A new paradigm of research, ecologically-based rodent management, is gaining momentum. Improving rodent management in the developing world could be one of the most important interventions of the 21st century to reduce poverty and improve people's livelihoods across the Tropics. See, , and for examples of research projects that he has led about the agricultural and disease problems rodents cause.

Current and Previous Funded Research Projects

Optimisation of Pesticidal-plants: Technology Innovation, Outreach & Networks: OPTIONs.

This project is funded by the European Development Fund ACP S&T programme. This EU programme aims to improve the capacity of science, technology and innovation across the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Region. The OPTIONs project is led by the Natural Resources Institute, with Dr Belmain as co-principal investigator, and involves partners from the UK, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, namely: the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; the World Agroforestry Centre; the University of Zimbabwe; Mzuzu University; Sokoine University of Agriculture; Sustainable Global Gardens; and the National Museums of Kenya.

With a budget of EUR1,175,000 from 2013–16, this multidisciplinary team aims to promote and facilitate the uptake of innovative technologies for improved food security based on pesticidal plants that can be effectively deployed within the context of local needs and resources. The project directly follows on from another European-funded project, the African Dryland Alliance for Pesticidal Plant Technologies: ADAPPT. More about this project can found at

Sustainable Technology to Overcome Pest Rodents in Africa Through Science: StopRats.

This project is funded by the European Development Fund ACP S&T programme. This EU programme aims to improve the capacity of science, technology and innovation across the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Region. The StopRats project is led by the Natural Resources Institute, with Professor Belmain as principal investigator, and involves partners from the UK, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Madagascar, namely the University of Namibia; the University of Swaziland; the University of Venda; Sokoine University of Agriculture; the Plant Protection Research Institute – Agricultural Research Council; Concern Worldwide; and the Association Vahatra.

With a budget of EUR1,168,000 from 2013–16, this multidisciplinary team aims to strengthen science, technology and innovation about rodent biology and management and contribute to African sustainable development by enabling institutions to address key indicators of poverty through the impacts of rodents on agricultural production systems and food security. This project expands upon previous European funding in the EcoRat project, more about this project can be found at

Safe and effective pesticidal plants for agro-ecological intensification of legumes

This project is funded by the McKnight Foundation, an independent private philanthropic charity established by the McKnight family in the United States to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. See:

The project involves partners at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Tanzania, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi, the Pyrethrum Growers Association of Kenya, McLaughlin Gormley King, a company in the USA, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK with Professor Belmain from the Natural Resources Institute acting as lead principal investigator. This four-year project (2013–17) builds on a previous four years of funding provided by McKnight, providing the continuity to address complex issues related to improving access to high quality ecosystem services for pest management in legume production.

Legumes (cowpea, beans, pigeon pea) are the most nutritionally important staple commodity in Africa because they are rich in protein and micronutrients such as iron and zinc, with many essential vitamins found in the leaves and fresh pods. Because animal sources of protein are relatively expensive, beans are especially important for poor households and have an important role in childhood nutrition and development, and household food security. The project ultimately aims to ensure safe pesticidal plant products that can help develop value chains for local pest management resources.

Cocoa Pollination for Optimised Production: CocoaPOP

This project is funded by the European Union's Caribbean and Pacific Research Programme for Sustainable Development (2012–15). Involving partners in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, the project aims to investigate ways to improve the pollination of cocoa.

As global demand for chocolate increases, farmers try to meet this by expanding their cocoa plantations, often converting natural forest. Despite the commercial nature of cocoa production, very little is actually known about its pollination and the pollinating insects found in different regions. Unlike most crops, cocoa is not pollinated by bees, and instead relies on small flies, called midges.

Rodent outbreak management to improve livelihoods of African farmers

This project is funded by the Agricultural Technology Transfer programme, AgriTT, with funding from the UK Department for International Development. The project is led by Professor Belmain and involves partners at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China and the Pest Management Centre, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania. The main aim of the project is to evaluate the prospect of Chinese fertility control technology to control rodent populations using fertility control hormones within an African context. Population outbreaks occur both in China and Africa, but the rodent species are different as are the general ecological, social and economic conditions. Chinese researchers have shown their fertility control baits work against a number of species in Chinese grassland habitats prone to population outbreaks; hence, there is good reason to hypothesize that the main grassland savannah rodent species found in Africa should be similarly susceptible. However, susceptibilities vary and efficacy in an African context must be evaluated, not only to ensure it works, but that it is safe for the environment, cost-effective, socially accepted and able to improve livelihoods by preventing severe agricultural losses.

Responsibilities within the University

  • Ecologist and field biologist carrying out collaborative research throughout Africa and Asia, helping to resolve pest and disease problems by increasing understanding about underlying ecological issues and developing sustainable management solutions for various problems that are cost-beneficial and environmentally sustainable
  • Research grant writing and managing large multi-national and multi-disciplinary research projects
  • Postgraduate supervision and teaching, on-the-job training and capacity building, knowledge dissemination and awareness raising, and designing and delivering bespoke training courses for pest and disease professionals and scientists.

Selected Publications

  • Arnold S.E.J., Peralta Idrovo, M.E., Lomas Arias, L.J., Belmain, S.R. and Stevenson, P.C. (2014) Herbivore defence compounds occur in pollen and reduce bumblebee colony fitness. Journal of Chemical Ecology.
  • Mulungu, L.S., Sixbert, V., Ngowo, V, Mdangi, M, Katakweba, A.S., Tesha, P., Mrosso, F.P. Mchomvu, M., Kilonzo B.S. and Belmain S.R. (2014) Spatio-temporal patterns in the distribution of the multi-mammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis, in rice crop and fallow land habitats in Tanzania. Mammalia.
  • Sola, P. Mvumi, B. M., Belmain, S.R., Ogendo, J. O., Mponda, O., Kamanula, J.F., Nyirenda, S. P. and Stevenson, P.C., (2014) Botanical pesticide production, trade and regulatory mechanisms in sub-Saharan Africa: making a case for plant-based pesticidal products. Food Security. 6(3): 369-384.
  • Jancloes, M.F., Bertherat, E., Scheider, C., Belmain, S.R., Munoz-Zanzi, C., Hartskeerl, R., Costa, F., Denis, J. and Benschop, J. (2014) Towards a “One Health” Strategy Against Leptospirosis. Planet@Risk. 2(3): 204-206.
  • Mulungu, L.S., Mlyashimbi, E.C.M, Ngowo, V., Mdangi, M., Katakweba, A.S., Tesha, P., Mrosso, F.P. Mchomvu, M., Kilonzo B.S. and Belmain S.R. (2014) Food preferences of the multi-mammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis, in irrigated rice habitats in Tanzania. International Journal of Pest Management. 60(1): 1-8.
  • Grzywacz, D., Stevenson, P. C., Mushobozi, W. L., Belmain, S.R., & Wilson, K. (2013) The use of indigenous ecological resources for pest control in Africa. Food Security. 6(1): 71-86.
  • Madzimure, J., Nyahangare, E.T., Hamudikuwanda, H., Hove, T., Belmain, S.R. Stevenson, P.C. and Mvumi, B.M. (2013) Efficacy of Strychnos spinosa (Lam.) and Solanum incanum L. aqueous fruit extracts against cattle ticks. Tropical Animal Health and Production. 45(6): 1341-1347.
  • Belmain, S.R., Haggar, J., Holt, J. and Stevenson, P.C. (2013). Managing legume pests in sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and prospects for improving food security and nutrition through agro-ecological intensification. Chatham Maritime (United Kingdom): Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich. 34p.
  • Mdangi, M., Mulungu, L.S., Massawe, A.W., Eiseb, S., Tutjavi, V., Kirsten, F., Mahlaba, T., Malebane, P., Maltitz, E.V., Monadjem, A., Dlamini, N., Makundi, R.H. and Belmain S.R. (2013) Assessment of rodent damage to stored maize (Zea mays L.) on smallholder farms in Tanzania. International Journal of Pest Management. 59(1): 55-62.
  • Arnold, S.E.J, Stevenson, P.C. and Belmain, S.R. (2012) Odour-mediated orientation of beetles is influenced by age, sex and morph. PLoS ONE. 7(11): e49071.
  • Belmain, S.R., Amoah, B.A., Nyirenda, S.P., Kamanula, J.F. and Stevenson, P.C. (2012) Highly variable insect control efficacy of Tephrosia vogelii chemotypes. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 60(40): 10055–10063.
  • Katakweba, A.A.S., Mulungu, L.S., Eiseb, S.J., Mahlaba, T.A., Makundi, R.H., Massawe, A.W., Borremans, B. and Steven R. Belmain (2012). Prevalence of haemoparasites, leptospires and cocobacilli with potential for human infection in the blood of rodents and shrews from selected localities in Tanzania, Namibia and Swaziland. African Zoology. 47(1): 119-127.
  • Stevenson, P.C., Kite, G.C., Lewis, G.P., Forest, F., Nyirenda, S.P., Belmain, S.R., Sileshi, G.W. and Veitch, N.C. (2012) Distinct chemotypes of Tephrosia vogelii and implications for their use in pest control and soil enrichment. Phytochemistry. 78: 135-146.
  • Taylor, P.J., Downs, S., Monadjem, A, Eiseb, S.J., Mulungu, L.S., Massawe, A.W., Mahlaba, T.A., Kirsten, F., Maltitz von, E., Malebane, P., Makundi, R.H., Lamb, J and Belmain, S.R. (2012) Experimental treatment-control studies of ecologically based rodent management in Africa: balancing conservation and pest management. Wildlife Research. 39(1): 51-61.
  • Nyahangare, E.T., Hove, T., Mvumi, B.M., Hamudikuwanda, H., Belmain, S.R., Madzimure, J. and Stevenson, P.C. (2012) Acute mammalian toxicity of four pesticidal plants. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 6 (13): 2674-2680.
  • Massawe, A.W, Mulungu, L.S, Makundi, R.H, Dlamini, N., Eiseb. S., Kirsten, F., Mahlaba, T., Malebane, P., Maltitz, E. von, , Monadjem. A., Taylor, P., Tutjavi, V., and Steven R. Belmain. (2011) Spatial and temporal population dynamics of rodents in three geographically different regions: Implications for ecologically- based rodent management. African Zoology. 46(2): 393–405.
  • Mulungu, L.S., Mahlaba, T., Massawe, A., Kennis, J., Crauwels, D., Eiseb, E., Monadjem, A., Makundi, R. Katakweba, A. Leirs, H. and Steven Belmain (2011) Dietary differences of the multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis, Smith 1832) across different habitats and seasons in Tanzania and Swaziland. Wildlife Research. 38(7): 640–646.
  • Bastos, A.D.S., Nair, D., Taylor, P.J., Brettschneider, H., Kirsten, F., Mostert, E., Maltitz, von, E., Lamb, J.M., Hooft, van P., Belmain, S.R., Contrafatto, G., Downs, S. and Chimimba, C.T.. (2011) Genetic monitoring detects an overlooked cryptic species and reveals the diversity and distribution of three invasive Rattus congeners in South Africa. BMC Genetics. 12:26.
  • Kamanula J., Sileshi, G.W., Belmain, S.R., Sola, P., Mvumi, B.M., Nyirenda, G.K.C., Nyirenda, S.P.N. & Stevenson, P.C. (2011) Farmers' Insect Pest management practices and pesticidal plant use for protection of stored maize and beans in Southern Africa. International Journal of Pest Management. 57(1): 41-49.
  • Singleton, G.R. Belmain, S.R. and Brown, P.R. (eds.) (2010) Rodent Outbreaks: Ecology and Impacts. International Rice Research Institute Press, Los Banos, Philippines. 289 pages.
  • Singleton, G.R. Belmain, S.R., Brown, P.R., Aplin, K. and Htwe, N.M. (2010) Impacts of rodent outbreaks on food security in Asia. Wildlife Research. 37:355-359.

Recent Conference Presentations

External Recognition

  • Fellow, Royal Entomological Society (FRES)
  • Fellow, Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Associate Editor, Wildlife Research
  • Editorial Board, Biopesticides International
  • Executive Committee Secretary for the International Conference on Rodent Biology and Management
  • International Committee for the African Small Mammal Symposium
  • Committee member of the World Health Organisation's Global Leptospirosis Environmental Action Network.

Contact Information

Professor Steven Belmain

Natural Resources Institute

University of Greenwich

Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom.

Tel: +44 (0)1634 883761 (direct); +44 (0)1634 880088

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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