Knowledge for a sustainable world

Jacinta Nyaika is a third year PhD student in the Food and Markets Department at NRI. She took five minutes out her day to talk to us about her research on an important food security crop, life at NRI and her future plans. 

NRI successfully hosted the International Conference on Food and Nutrition Security in Africa from 20-21 February 2024 at the University of Greenwich campus in London. Organised as part of NRI’s Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI), the event convened around 98 people from local and international academic institutions, research organisations and inter-governmental organisations. The conference featured presentations from invited speakers, NRI researchers, students and FaNSI partners, who shared their research results and experience highlighting challenges and potential solutions for food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Tropical forests are vanishing as they are converted to agricultural land to meet the demands of distant markets. The global trade of tropical commodities has raised concerns about deforestation, prompting high-income countries to explore regulatory and trade measures to address the issue. However, a recent analysis shows that high-income countries have the highest consumption rates of the tropical commodities analysed and that these rates have considerably increased in the last 20 years.

NRI’s Professor of Ecology Steve Belmain is co-author of an influential paper recently published in the Nature journal, Scientific Data. The bii4africa dataset of faunal and floral population intactness estimates across Africa’s major land uses sheds light on threats to biodiversity from land use changes in sub-Saharan Africa. The article describes the process of developing scores representing the intactness of land-dwelling vertebrates and plants in sub-Saharan Africa across nine major land uses of varying intensity. The dataset was developed to enable the quantification of the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) for sub-Saharan Africa. A BII estimates how the average abundance of native land species in an area compares with their abundance before alteration by pronounced human activity.

Women play a pivotal role in the intricate web of food systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Mothers, daughters, community leaders – these are the often undervalued individuals holding the reins on critical food-linked decisions and hygiene practices. From purchasing and preparation to dietary choices for vulnerable groups (infants, disabled and the elderly), women's influence on food safety is undeniable.

March is a significant month in the calendar year, with International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March and the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (6-17 March), where member states of the United Nations work to progress the agenda on gender equality and women's rights. These events are important not only to acknowledge successes in gender equality and social justice but also to recognise increasing backlash and challenges experienced throughout the world. For NRI’s Gender and Social Difference Research Group (GSDRG), we aim to use this period to reflect on these challenges in solidarity with partners and social movements and identify ways we can contribute to pathways for gender equity, social justice and transformative change.

This week, the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) will be holding an international conference on food and nutrition security, as part of its Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI). The two-day conference, 20-21 February 2024, will take place at the University’s campus at Greenwich. The event will serve as a platform for researchers, practitioners, students, and partners of FaNSI to convene, share their research and discuss critical issues surrounding food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Seventy-five of the most promising research leaders, recently recognised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will benefit from a £101 million fund to tackle major global issues and commercialise their innovations in the UK.

Collaboration is a key feature of our work at NRI. Through high quality collaborative research, knowledge exchange and learning, NRI works to find innovative solutions to local and global challenges. This culture has led to collaborations with local businesses and institutions, helping to build capacity and facilitate the development of locally robust but also globally relevant innovations.

NRI is part of a transdisciplinary hub consisting of 34 leading research and stakeholder organisations aiming to help all four UK governments to drive the land use transformations required to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

NRI is part of a recently started, two-year project to develop a new technology to manufacture protein with an improved flavour profile, from microalgae. The incorporation of algae into human food systems has gained increased attention in recent years, with significant interest in microalgae as an alternative protein source.

NRI has secured funding to develop a plant-based meat alternative from spent grain waste from the brewing and distilling industry. The BSG4PROTEIN project is supported by the environmental charity, Hubbub, through their ‘Eat It Up fund’. Eat It Up is designed to facilitate innovators to find creative solutions to tackling food waste. The fund is financed through the Starbucks 5p cup charge which is applied each time a customer chooses to use a single use cup. The project is led by NRI’s alternative protein expert Dr Parag Acharya, Dr Micael De Andrade Lima, a lecturer in Food Innovation, and NRI’s food loss and waste expert Prof. Tanya Stathers.