As part of a consortium of partners, the University of Greenwich has been awarded funding to develop a full business case for the ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ innovation cluster. Led by NIAB EMR, a horticultural research organisation based in East Malling, Kent, the consortium has received £50k in funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) ‘Strength in Places Fund’ to develop a full business case for the ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ innovation cluster. World-class consortium partners include the APS Group, Berry Gardens Growers, Thanet Earth Ltd, World Wide Fruit Ltd, Hadlow College, and the University of Kent, along with the University of Greenwich.
Greenwich’s contribution to ‘Growing Kent and Medway’ draws on the University’s strengths in crop protection, post-harvest storage and value addition at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), with other inputs from the wider Faculty of Engineering and Science.
The proposed collaboration will increase research capacity and co-invested industry engagement to drive innovation, commercialisation and novel training programmes. It is backed by strong support from the wider civic and business community. The strongest bids in the competition will receive between £10m and £50m each to carry out projects that drive substantial economic growth.
The consortium’s geographical location is home to over 40% of UK high-value horticultural production and a key gateway to global markets. The opportunity for growth in the sector is significant. However, productivity in this region is under-performing in stark contrast to other regions where investment in research and business led collaboration has resulted in significant economic uplift and prosperity. By driving innovation and productivity throughout the Agri-food supply chain, ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ will deliver sustainable economic and social benefits to a region that has some of the most deprived areas in England.
Professor Mario Caccamo, Managing Director at NIAB EMR says, “The announcement of this seed-corn funding is a major achievement and reflects the hard work and aspirations of the consortium partners, to invest in, and grow the regional economy”. He adds, “We will create a modern, dynamic and outward looking research and innovation-focused business cluster. It will develop Kent and Medway as the UK's leading region for the production and processing of high-value foods and plant-based compounds. This vision for ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ aligns with both national and local strategic priorities by supporting an entrepreneurial culture, business start-ups, encouraging inward investment, job creation, skills development, social inclusion, and economic growth across the sector”.
Rob James from Thanet Earth Ltd, an innovative producer of salad crops based on the north Kent coast added, “This exciting initiative will allow industry to respond to the significant challenges that currently face horticulture and food production systems, increase food security, the UK’s competitiveness and deliver sustainable economic growth to the region. We welcome this opportunity to be part of this progressive and industry-focussed consortium”.
Mario Caccamo concludes that, “this inclusive consortium is well placed to build on, and develop its network of relationships and contacts across industry, academia and civic leadership. The building blocks necessary for this initiative are already in place and the grant funding from the UKRI Strength in Places Fund will be used to catalyse and stimulate further growth and additionality to the sector”.