Knowledge for a sustainable world

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.

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.

The sustainable development agenda is a response to a new class of challenges that call into question current patterns of human activity in relation to production and consumption, access and distribution of resources, and the way these processes and patterns of human activity are governed and directed.

Every year, viral diseases wreak havoc worldwide on tomato and cucurbit crops (squash, pumpkin, courgette), causing huge yield losses ranging from 15% to 100%, accounting for losses of around €3.5 billion in Europe alone. The emergence of new and devastating plant viruses is fuelled by a combination of climate change, rising global trade and more interconnected agricultural sectors.

Walking through a field of sorghum, your vision might be drawn upwards to the plant’s impressively tall stalks, its waxy green leaves or its large panicles. You may be unaware of what is happening to the crops under your feet. A cereal species of the grass family (Poaceae), sorghum is an important crop worldwide.

Wine connoisseurs might describe the taste of a wine as earthy, round, robust, crisp, mellow, oaky, or any number of specialist terms. Much of the taste is attributed to its terroir – a term encompassing the complete natural environment in which a particular crop is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.