Knowledge for a sustainable world

Safeenah Safiyan has just come to the end of her one-year course at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, where she studied for a MSc in Agriculture for Sustainable Development. She took five minutes out of her pre-graduation preparation to talk to NRI Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, about her time here at the University.

On my first day at NRI I remember turning up to registration and feeling nervous, but I needn’t have as everyone was really nice and the staff were very welcoming especially during the orientation period. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed, I was suddenly with all these people from different countries I wondered how we would all fit in with each other.

Jaspher Ewany successfully completed his one-year course at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, where he studied for a MSc in Agriculture for Sustainable Development. He took five minutes out of his day to talk to NRI Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, about his time here at the University and how he now makes a ‘song and dance’ out of agriculture...

NRI has a fantastic reputation for research and for teaching agricultural sciences, and that was what persuaded me to come here. I was originally awarded the Marshall Papworth Scholarship to study an MSc. Agriculture and Development at the University of Reading, but NRI’s excellent reputation played a huge role in my decision to choose NRI at the University of Greenwich instead. I also wanted to be part of the most prestigious scholarship in the world, the UK Commonwealth Scholarship, which I was subsequently awarded to study at Greenwich.

This plant may look pretty innocent but it’s fast gaining notoriety for being a ‘vegetarian vampire’ that’s causing huge amounts of damage to rice fields in Africa.

A team of researchers and students from NRI and Wageningen University, is investigating exactly how Rhamphicarpa fistulosa or as it’s more commonly known, Rice Vampireweed, gets its strength. Dr Jonne Rodenburg of NRI, says that ‘vampire’ is just one of the names this plant goes by: “actually a number of gruesome analogies have been used to describe this otherwise harmless-looking tropical plant, with ‘slave master’ being one of the recent references in scientific publications.”

NRI has a long history of working in partnership with collaborators across the world, as we undertake research that makes a difference. In the past five years, NRI staff have worked in over 40 developing countries with more than 250 partners. Through NRI’s recently launched Food and Security Initiative (FaNSI) we are building on existing collaborations with partners in Africa and establishing new ones.

Colleagues at NRI and horticultural research organisation NIAB EMR (National Institute of Agricultural Botany East Malling Research), have been awarded a BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) Industrial Partnership Award to develop a new technology to protect soft fruit from Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD).

On the 17th of May 2019, students were given the opportunity to both organise and participate in the 4th Annual NRIPS (Natural Resources Institute Postgraduate Society) Symposium.

The NRIPS Symposium aims to equip participants with vital transferable skills which are used to aid future career development. NRI Deputy Director, Professor Ben Bennett opened the session and Professor John Morton gave the keynote address on how research can make an impact on people’s lives which included fascinating examples from history and from his own research career, and invited the students to consider how their own research could make an impact.

Could you imagine not having at least one of the above to get you through the week? If badnaviruses, a highly diverse group of plant DNA viruses, have their wicked way, that may become a possibility. Badnaviruses are, like the names suggests, extremely bad news for yams, grapevines and cocoa, but luckily help is at hand.

Here at NRI there is a new PhD project which aims to study diseases caused by globally emerging badnaviruses that could threaten the future of the key ingredients of our beloved cake, wine and chocolate. NRI is currently recruiting a postgraduate research student to undertake this project.

The heat was on for this year’s cohort of students as they graduated on one of the hottest days of the year. The grandeur of Rochester Cathedral provided cool and welcome relief as the thermometer touched 31 degrees outside. NRI staff and students defied the sweltering heat as they queued patiently for tickets and donned their gowns.

Coming soon to a pub near you, this year’s ‘Pint of Science’ festival will allow you to sip and think. This popular worldwide science event held every year in May, brings brilliant researchers to your local pub to present their scientific discoveries while you sit back, glass in hand, and take it all in. 

Across the UK there are 600 events happening across 40 cities, and NRI’s Dr Claudia Carvalho and Dr Lori Fisher are kicking it off in Medway on Monday 20th May with their talk on “Sustainable Spuds and Other Fresh Produce – It’s all in the Storage & Packaging”.

On Tuesday 28th May, NRI convened a one-day seminar at the Produce Quality Centre (PQC) in East Malling, Kent. Experts, academics and representatives from across the soft fruit industry supply chain were invited to discuss current challenges facing the industry and possible solutions for the future.

Organised by NRI’s Dr Lori Fisher and Dr Deborah Rees, the day featured a number of fascinating keynote speakers including Nikki Jennings from the James Hutton Institute who spoke about breeding berries for practical production, Nancy Clark from Amcor who explored the impact of packaging, and Thomas Hoeterickx from Octinion whose ‘Revolution in the Greenhouse’ presentation showed the future of automation for berry harvesting.

Friday 7th June marked the United Nations’ inaugural World Food Safety Day. Its aim was to make us all realise that food safety is everyone’s problem. Here at NRI we agree 100%.

Everyone has the right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, but the UN calculates that every year almost one in ten people in the world falls ill after eating contaminated food, stating, “Food-borne illnesses are estimated to be responsible for 420,000 deaths annually– 125,000 of them in children under five - every year, with people in Africa and Southeast Asia suffering the most.”

Have you ever wondered how you might spend £15m on regenerating your local area? On Wednesday 5th June, the University of Greenwich hosted an exciting event at the Medway campus as part of the ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ research, innovation and enterprise cluster. The cluster is bidding to win a grant to make this region one of the most dynamic, competitive and successful locations in the world for technology-driven horticultural production, food processing, and its supply chains.

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