Today, 25th April, is World Malaria Day – an international observance day led by the World Health Organisation to recognise global efforts to control malaria. It is fitting that this year’s theme highlights malaria prevention, as a team of researchers led by NRI begins testing a mosquito trap that exploits the very blood-seeking behaviour of mosquitoes that makes them such good carriers of disease. This pioneering trap is the subject of a new Medical Research Council (MRC) grant, and was showcased in a short film which this afternoon won the video segment of a contest run by the Swiss Malaria Group. Dr Frances Hawkes, Research Fellow at NRI, attended the award ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. This short film, and a full-length documentary shown on BBC television, were made by Steve Holloway and Judy Aslett of Streamline Productions. “Winning this video competition means that the reality of malaria is shared with a whole new audience,” says Dr Hawkes, “and underlines the importance of international collaboration in research to monitor and control malaria-spreading mosquitoes.”
Decaf or full strength…medium-body or dark roast…blend or single origin? There is no shortage of choice when it comes to buying coffee. We can even choose how our coffee was grown or traded by buying products that are certified organic or ‘Fairtrade’. Fairtrade aims to ensure better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. So, what impact does the Fairtrade system have on coffee farmers and farmer organisations? In 2013, Fairtrade International, the body that develops the Fairtrade standards for products and operates global certification and auditing systems, commissioned a study to find the answer to this question. NRI led the research for this study, carrying out fieldwork in four coffee-producing countries together with a team of international researchers. The findings of their in-depth evaluation were recently published by Fairtrade.
Calling all farmers, growers, researchers, manufacturers and suppliers: with growing pressure to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, now is the time to discover the latest advances in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and biopesticide technology. Attend the free Biopesticides Event at the University of Greenwich, London, on 20th April where you can listen to and meet specialists from across the sector.
Fresh cassava rots all too quickly, with roots beginning to deteriorate within 24–72 hours after harvest. This is a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where 500 million people rely on the crop for food security and nutrition, and where up to 40% of cassava is lost to spoilage. This ‘short shelf life’ was the focus of the Cassava Innovation Challenge launched in 2016 by the Rockefeller Foundation, Dalberg, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). NRI and partners from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Nigeria, took on the challenge and came up with the most promising solution: the ‘NRIcassavabag’, a bag with a built-in curing technology that will keep cassava fresh for at least eight days after harvest.
Wetlands, as their name suggests, are areas that are saturated with water, permanently or seasonally, existing at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Why should wetlands matter to us? Marshes, swamps, bogs and fens, among other types of wetlands, are some of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, with distinctive soil, plants and animals. They can also increase social wellbeing for people by providing food, water, transport networks and accessible greenspace. They play important roles in the environment: purifying water, acting as ‘carbon sinks’ to absorb carbon dioxide, ensuring shoreline stability and controlling floods. A key response to climate change in the UK has been the development of regional and national strategies for the provision of new wetlands to mitigate coastal and inland flooding. While new wetlands can bring many benefits, a potential side effect can be increasing habitats for biting insects such as mosquitoes. The University of Greenwich, including scientists from NRI, is leading a project called WetlandLIFE, which is investigating the cultural and economic values of English wetlands, with a particular focus on managing mosquitoes in wetland environments.
Control of pests is necessary for farmers to reduce crop losses, safeguard livestock and ensure that produce is protected once it’s been harvested and stored. For smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, severe insect damage, low yields and serious post-harvest loss are unfortunately all too common problems, and this is made worse by inadequate access to pest control technologies. One alternative is the use of locally grown pesticidal plants – plants with naturally occurring chemicals that deter or destroy pests. Such plants offer effective control against insect pests while having less impact on beneficial insects such as pollinators and natural enemies of pests, plus they are less costly than synthetic pesticides. An NRI-led project called OPTIONs (Optimising Pesticidal Plants: Technology Innovation, Outreach and Networks) aims to raise awareness about pesticidal plants and the advantages they have over synthetic pesticides to improve people’s livelihoods, and to deliver innovative ways to manage insect pests that are more agro-ecologically sustainable.
Love your greens? So does the diamondback moth – especially brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower, and leafy salad greens – as many growers around the world know. Despite its diminutive size, the diamondback moth has long been considered a ‘super pest’, especially in the tropics, though a warming climate means it is now venturing into the UK and other locations that are becoming suitable for insects. The diamondback moth’s ability to breed rapidly and develop resistance to pesticides costs growers billions of dollars in control measures and lost produce each year. But it is not unbeatable. NRI experts advise growers that the time is right to get smart about pest management.
Invisible insects? The insects in question are not actually invisible, but they do fly high enough for their movement to have gone largely unnoticed. The huge numbers of insects – about 3.5 trillion each year – were recorded flying over the southern UK using a special-purpose vertical-looking radar invented by Professor Joe Riley and Alan Smith during their time at NRI in the 1990s. Their radar was the main technique used in a decade-long insect monitoring study. This long period of continuous monitoring made it possible to produce an overview of total numbers of insects and their ‘biomass’ or amount of living matter, which amounted to about 3,200 tonnes of insects per year. The analyses of this study, carried out by a multinational group of scientists from Exeter University, Rothamsted Research, NRI, and the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa, in Israel, were recently published in Science.
Better nutrition for a growing population is a major challenge of our time. In order to provide a healthy and sustainable diet for all, it is necessary to have a clear and accurate picture of current agricultural food systems. By improving standards for collecting and measuring data and developing innovative methodologies for evaluating agriculture and food systems, scientists will be able to build a robust evidence base which in turn will guide actions to improve nutrition. To that end, NRI has recently been awarded two research grants, both of which are looking to develop innovative methodologies and tools for capturing and measuring data, leading to more effective interventions to improve nutrition.
Rats are everywhere. They cause damage in a multitude of ways, from destroying field crops, to eating and contaminating stored food, spreading serious diseases among people and animals and destroying infrastructure. Rodents can even cause house and farm fires by biting through electrical cables. NRI, together with research teams from six African countries, have been working on a project known as ‘StopRats’ which aims to significantly reduce the impact of rodents on people’s lives.