Knowledge for a sustainable world

Every time we sink our teeth into a square of chocolate, we should spare a thought for the unappreciated and tiny cocoa midges that pollinate the cacao flowers, from which we get cocoa beans, the raw material for chocolate. The midges do all the initial hard work and without them, we’d be facing the prospect of a world without chocolate.

Critters, creepy-crawlies, bugs, scuttlers, beasties – just a few of the many nicknames given to our insect friends. This year for National Insect Week, the theme is ‘little things that run the world’ and the Royal Entomological Society is asking all of us to notice and appreciate insects just that little bit more.

Like most of the UK, NRI began the process of closing down its office and laboratory-based work the week immediately preceding official lockdown, and those who could, began working from home. Since then, only one or two people have been allowed on site at NRI’s Medway base, either for essential maintenance purposes, looking after plants in the greenhouses or tending plant and insect cultures in the insectaries.

Valerie Nelson | Olga Martin-Ortega | Gillian Summers

All workers in the world have a right to decent work: safe and healthy working conditions, protection against discrimination, fair and adequate remuneration, freedom of association, and other fundamental human rights that are enshrined in international labour standards. Regardless, the global production of goods is tainted by the abuse of human rights. Every global supply chain, and many local ones, in sectors from food and beverage, electronics, garments, surgical material to bricks and stones present serious risks of human and labour rights violations to workers.

World Oceans Day is marked each year on June 8th, with its aim of “raising awareness of the vital importance of our oceans and the role they play in sustaining a healthy planet.” It’s a day where people and organisations come together – this year by video link due to COVID-19 – to gain an overview of the state of the oceans and to discuss protection and conservation.

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?