World-leading research and development on cassava by the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich has been honoured with a prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.
The award was announced tonight, 19th November, at a ceremony at St James' Palace in London. Her Majesty the Queen is to present the university with a silver gilt medallion and prize-winner's certificate during a special reception at Buckingham Palace next year.
The prize recognises NRI's research and development in the field of cassava, the tropical root crop predominantly grown by smallholder farmers in the developing world, especially in Africa, where it is an important staple food for millions. NRI's work has been sustainably improving the cassava value chain for over 25 years.
Cassava faces a number of challenges: it is vulnerable to attack by pests and virus diseases and faces obstacles to market access, storage and handling issues and a short shelf-life. It has also received less investment than other crops resulting in significant gaps in knowledge.
NRI's teams of natural and social scientists look beyond the cassava diseases, pests, and problems of production, processing and post-harvest, to recognise the potential of this surprising crop, which combines low levels of inputs, flexibility in planting and harvesting, relative drought tolerance, and gives consumers an important source of 'edible energy'.
NRI's cassava programme looks specifically at four key areas along cassava's journey from 'farm to fork'. They include: combating pests and diseases, adding value through processing and business development, reclaiming waste products from the cassava industry, and strengthening the capacity of developing-country scientists and practitioners. The work improves the lives of farmers through increased food security and better incomes, demonstrating a practical benefit to smallholder farmers and small- and medium-scale enterprises in the developing world.
Over 30 cassava specialists are behind these achievements, with expertise spanning molecular biology, entomology, food technology, market economics and social development. They are working in collaboration with partners in 17 countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
NRI's Director, Professor Andrew Westby, who has been engaged in cassava research for almost 30 years, says, "the award of a Queen's Anniversary Prize to the Natural Resources Institute is a great credit to our dedicated social and natural scientists and postgraduate research students, whose world-leading research and development work on cassava is making a real difference to the lives of poor people in developing countries.
Our work has been particularly effective because of the strength of the relationships with our partners around the world and our focus on capacity strengthening of developing-country partners."
Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, says: "The UK is a world leader in science and research. The outstanding academics recognised with these awards bring benefits to the everyday lives of millions of people and deserve this high honour for their work."
The main external funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission, the African Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Together, they contribute towards a current portfolio of cassava projects totalling £18.8 million, and their backing over the last ten years has helped to support almost £30 million of cassava work.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, Professor David Maguire, welcomed the award. He says: "The whole university is hugely proud of this great honour; it's a great accolade for NRI and another clear indicator of their exceptional, word class work in this field.
"The prize is also a wonderful tribute to our international funders and partners. They have helped us to apply our expertise on a global scale, transforming the lives of some of the world's poorest communities."
Queen's Anniversary Prizes are awarded to universities and colleges by the Royal Anniversary Trust. They recognise excellence, innovation, impact and benefit for the winning institution and for people and society generally in the wider world.
Kieran Poynter, Chair of the Royal Anniversary Trust, says: "The prizes illustrate the variety and quality of innovative work being done in our universities and colleges. They encourage our institutions to think about what they are doing in terms of practical benefit as well as intrinsic quality. The work being recognised combines a track record of outstanding achievement with the promise of future development."