Knowledge for a sustainable world

During an afternoon tea break in Blantyre, Malawi, we were offered a range of delicious-looking biscuits. The coconut-flavoured ones were particularly tasty, and accessibly priced, as we learnt from Jean Pankuku, Food Technologist at Universal Industries. All the biscuits on offer that afternoon were made with a proportion of cassava flour – High-Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF).

We continue to produce plastic to feed the ever-growing consumer demands, and more plastic equals more waste. If current production and waste management trends continue, it’s estimated that roughly 12,000 Mt (metric tonnes) of plastic waste will be in landfill or in the natural environment by the year 2050, according to a recent study.

In India the plastic problem now affecting its coasts and oceans is “severe and alarming” with nearly 87% of waste not managed adequately. The problem is so bad that it’s officially classed as a serious issue in the country and plastic waste is presenting a high risk of polluting both rivers and ocean.

Huge swathes of tropical forests are burning in Africa and the Amazon. These forests are home to indigenous peoples, they are vital habitats for animals and plants, and they are important absorbers of carbon dioxide. Forests are increasingly under pressure as global demand grows for food, fuel and fibre. Markets generally do not attach a value to the social and environmental benefits that forests provide; short-term economic gains from degrading or converting forests are greater than those from leaving them standing.

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. A tweet from President Macron of France stated, “our house is burning. Literally”. This sentiment echoes the speech ‘Our house is on fire’ given by environmental activist Greta Thunberg at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. So far this year, Brazil has had more than 72,000 fire outbreaks, an 84% increase on the same period in 2018. More than half of these fires were in the Amazon.

What does this mean for the planet, and how worried should we be?

Can you tell the difference between a grasshopper and a locust? The Boris I want to tell you about, (the one now cast in bronze rather than the currently ubiquitous blond one), certainly could. Sir Boris Petrovitch Uvarov KCMG, FRS, the eminent Russian-British acridologist (an expert on locusts and grasshoppers), died nearly half a century ago but the scientific legacy of his important discovery lives on. This is his story.

There are 34 known species of mosquitoes in the UK, with an array of appearances, behaviour, favourite meals and preferred habitats. A type of landscape known for its association to mosquitoes are the wetlands, which include marshes, swamps, bogs and fens, among other types. This World Mosquito Day, 20th August, together with the interdisciplinary team of the ‘WetlandLIFE’ project, we are taking a closer look at mosquitoes, considering both the benefits and the risks they can bring to wetland environments.

Do you have what it takes to make an impact on global food and nutrition security? We are looking for exceptional candidates to help drive forward our work to improve the lives of poor people.

The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, UK, carries out specialised research, teaching, training and consultancy with a focus on food, agriculture, environment and sustainable livelihoods.

This is an opportunity to work in an international and vibrant institute, where our teams of natural and social scientists carry out award-winning interdisciplinary research for development. We are well-known across the developing world for practical application of our findings, devising sustainable solutions that make a difference.

How will food security be further endangered by climate change? How do current global systems of producing and distributing food contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions? How is land degradation, including desertification, exacerbating and exacerbated by climate change?

These questions are addressed in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change. This landmark report assesses a huge range of literature on the interactions between climate change, land degradation, and food insecurity. Importantly, IPCC assessments such as this provide governments with scientific information that they can use to develop policies to tackle climate change.

Coffee is so much more than just another hot beverage. We depend on it to kick-start our mornings, and round off a nice dinner. It’s a useful social prop, and now its alleged health benefits (regular coffee drinkers report lower instances of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression to name a few) are well known. For some it’s a way of life, and no more so than for those who grow it, and to avoid the dreaded ‘boom and bust’ for the farmer, the race is on to discover more sustainable forms of production.

Bees are big news right now and humankind has realised two important things: how interlinked bees’ survival is with its own, and that bees are in trouble and urgently need help. Their distress call has reached the ears of government with Defra’s (UK Department for Food and Rural Affairs) Pollinator Advisory Steering Group (PASG) delivering a National Pollinator Strategy and helping develop changes to farming practice and land management. The good news is that by doing less to our parks, hedgerows and gardens, we can do more to help bees.

Hoverflies, which mimic wasps in their black and yellow markings but do not possess a sting, are incredibly useful as pollinators and pest controllers amid the decline of other insect species, as a new study into their migratory behaviour has found.

NRI’s Dr Don Reynolds is part of a group of international scientists that used entomological (insect-studying) radar, to study hoverflies flying up to 1km high, in the skies above southern England. Over a ten-year period, Dr Reynolds and his colleagues examined the biomass of, and seasonal flux in, numbers of migrant hoverflies.

The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) is delighted to announce that it has been granted an award from Research England’s ‘Expanding Excellence in England’ (E3) Fund to increase its research on food and nutrition security. Through a highly competitive process, the E3 fund aims to support the strategic expansion of excellent research units and departments in Higher Education Institutions across England. 

Using this new investment, NRI will implement a Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI) to expand its research capacity with a specific focus on addressing climate change, food loss and waste, sustainable agricultural intensification and food systems for nutrition.