Knowledge for a sustainable world

With deep sadness, we mark the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We all know that eating fruit keeps us healthy, but often there’s a very small window of opportunity to eat the contents of our fruitbowl when it’s at its best. All too often fruit from the supermarket is either unripe, or about to go off. NRI’s Professor Debbie Rees was asked by Channel 5’s consumer show, “Secrets of your supermarket shop”, to explain how we can choose and store our fruit to get the most out of it.

Yams look similar to sweet potatoes – they both grow herbaceous vines and produce edible tubers. Their taste, however, is quite different – yams are starchier and more potato-like whereas sweet potatoes are sweeter with a creamy texture. In West Africa, yam (Dioscorea spp.) is a preferred staple food for over 300 million people where the crop is prepared in different ways to make a variety of dishes.

Despite progress in many aspects of global development over recent decades, 690 million people experienced hunger in 2020. Degradation of our natural resources – land, water, forests, and biodiversity – continues at alarming rates. The food supply chain faces a series of global issues concerning sustainability, safety and innovation.

The name ‘Steve Belmain’, Professor of Ecology at NRI, is synonymous with rats, mice and any rodent that is a serious pest capable of destroying crops, contaminating food, damaging infrastructure, and transmitting dangerous diseases to people and animals. For over 20 years, Prof Belmain has been carrying out research on the biology and behaviour of dangerous rodent pests, and providing advice, training and guidance on the sustainable management of rodents to a number of intergovernmental organisms and national governments where rodent pests are a severe problem.

A temporary reprieve from the recent heatwaves meant that the graduation ceremony held at Rochester Cathedral in Kent on Thursday 28th July was a pleasant and temperate affair. Friends and families of the NRI graduates filed into the pews to watch the ceremony in the cool grandeur of the ancient edifice.

Professor Delia Grace Randolph, Professor of Food Safety Systems at NRI, has been awarded the Peter Ellis award for ‘exceptional contributions to veterinary epidemiology’. Delia was presented with this prestigious award in Halifax, Canada during the ISVEE – the International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics – which meets every three years.

One of the biggest challenges in relation to food is managing loss and waste, not just in homes, but throughout the food system from pre-production to consumption. In August, Kew Gardens hosted a panel discussion as part of its ‘Food Forever’ series of evening talks, on how food loss and waste relates to the way we live in the 21st century, and what can be done to combat it.

It is estimated that 10% of the world’s population rely on cassava as a staple food. Cassava is one of the world’s most versatile crops, with uses for both food and industry –for example, it can be used to make animal feed, ethanol, or adhesives. As a food, although cassava is probably the most energy-dense of all staples, it is lacking in micronutrients.

Like many endangered species worldwide, orangutan populations are facing multiple threats from habitat loss, poaching and illegal trade. Conflicts with humans also arise, as competition between the two species increases due to the shrinking of land and natural resources.

Over the last 15 years, there has been a significant expansion of private-sector agricultural investments in low- and middle-income countries. Too often, such investments have led to dispossessions, forced resettlements, lost livelihoods and human rights abuses for smallholders and local communities, with few real beneficiaries.

Gender equity may not immediately come to mind when thinking about crop breeding. However, the influence of gender roles and social relationships on crop breeding is considerable, particularly with root, tuber and banana (RTB) crops which are vital for people’s food and income across sub-Saharan Africa.