Knowledge for a sustainable world

As the world reels from the deadly ravages brought by COVID-19, another plague – at least as old as mankind itself – is devastating huge swathes of east Africa and the Middle East, and is going largely unnoticed.
Massed swarms of desert locusts, bigger than any seen since the mid-1990s, are sweeping across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Iran and Pakistan, eating everything in their path and leaving behind a trail of ruined crops and livestock pasture. NRI is now leading the fight back against this plague, thanks to a grant of US$135,000 from USAID - the United States Agency for International Development.

World Hunger Day which this year fell on May 28th, exists to draw attention to global poverty and food insecurity and to elicit a response from those who can help. For many years, NRI has been finding ways to tackle various issues within the food value chain in developing countries, helping many of the 820 million people who do not have access to safe, nutritious and adequate food supplies.

‘Growing Kent & Medway’, a project focused on strengthening the competitiveness of Britain’s horticulture, food and drink industries, has been awarded £18 million in funding under the UK Government’s ‘Strength in Places’ scheme.

Building on over a century of agricultural research in Kent, the project aims to turbo-charge the research, innovation and enterprise environment to boost growth in this critical sector for the UK. The project will establish Kent and Medway as a world-leading region for the climate-smart production and processing of high-value, nutrient-rich foods and plant-based products.

The UN has adopted by consensus, a resolution declaring that 20th May will become known as World Bee Day so that, “every year on this day, the attention of the global public will be drawn to the importance of preserving bees and other pollinators. People will be reminded of the importance of bees for the entire humanity and invited to take concrete action to preserve and protect them.”

Lora Forsythe, June Po, Fiorella Picchioni |

The significant impacts of COVID-19, accompanied by national policies for managing the virus – travel restrictions, home quarantine, non-essential business and school closures, and social distancing – have led to major disruptions in daily life, often challenging the distinction between the public-private spheres. Many people, and disproportionately women, are simultaneously home schooling, working (if possible), supporting the elderly, and caring for the sick. Intra-household communications intensify, along with increased incidences of domestic violence.[1]

The World Health Organization and the United Nation’s slogan for World Malaria Day 2020 is “zero malaria starts with me”. Described as a grassroots campaign to keep malaria high on the political agenda, the aim is to mobilise additional resources and empower communities to take ownership of malaria prevention and care. This resonates hugely with Noushin Emami who joined NRI recently as Associate Professor of Infection Biology Bioinformatics - the science of storing, retrieving and analysing large amounts of biological information.

Queues, panic-buying and supermarket shelves stripped bare, anyone who has recently tried to do a weekly shop will have had something of a wake-up call. Here in the UK, the food systems that we take for granted are struggling, with a nation under quarantine and people concerned with stocking up. As we gradually become accustomed to living under official lockdown, many of us ponder growing our own food in a bid to find a new hobby and become less reliant on the shops. But how achievable is it?

Keith Tomlins, Professor of Food Science, NRI |

How might COVID-19 affect food systems in LMICs (Low- and Middle-Income Countries)? Of the few published articles about food and pandemics, most refer to obesity or high-income countries. [1,2] Regarding LMICs, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 caused severe food shortages, higher prices by up to 150% and contributed to reduced food security, poorer infant and young child feeding practices and poorer nutrition. [2,3]

Louise Abayomi, Senior Research Fellow – Postharvest Specialist, NRI |

Nigeria is the most populated African country, with almost half the Nigerian population living in extreme poverty (WB, 2018). Food and nutrition security is therefore of particular concern. Lagos State in the south-west of Nigeria is home to around 21 million people (10% of the national population). Traditional open markets are the norm for food trade in Lagos.

Uche Okpara, Fellow in Climate Change and State Fragility, NRI |

In Lake Chad, just over 85 soldiers involved in the fight against violent extremism were killed recently following a long battle with the Boko Haram sect. Much of North-eastern Nigeria and Western Chad near Lake Chad remain under intense insurgent attacks as shocks from drought intensify, and humanitarian conditions worsen.

John Morton, Professor of Development Anthropology, NRI |

As I write, the full impact of the new coronavirus and the associated disease COVID-19 on developing countries is yet to be seen, and is hard to predict in either scale or nature. Yet it is clear that those impacts will include impacts on both smallholder and commercial farming and on other links in food supply chains.

Judy Bettridge, Fellow in Biostatistics for Food and Agriculture, NRI |

Hazelnut muesli bars, fresh mackerel, frozen mushy peas: the curious selection of scattered items among the desolation of empty shelves in my local supermarket in Kent, UK, reminded me of time spent in Ethiopia, where our local shop in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), a small town 45km outside Addis, never seemed to have the same stock two weeks running!