Knowledge for a sustainable world

Ethiopia faces multiple interacting development challenges linked to environmental change and land degradation, which have negative consequences for food security. As a plant diversity hotspot for both wild plants and domesticated crops, Ethiopia harbours biological resources that could play important roles in solving these challenges. UK Research and Innovation, through the Global Challenges Research Fund, are funding a new project collaboration between Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Professor Phil Stevenson at NRI, NRI’s Dr Sarah Arnold and Professor Ben Bennett, and partners in Ethiopia including Professor Sebsebe Demissew, a botanist from Addis Ababa University. The project aims to enable the realisation of the potential of Ethiopia’s abundant and unique plant diversity to address global challenges in food security, health and nutrition, and poverty and displacement.

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is the less well-known relative of one of the world’s most popular fruits, the banana (Musa sp.). According to the FAO, every year 114 million tonnes of bananas are grown on approximately 5.6 million hectares of land in 135 countries. In contrast, and despite growing wild across much of East and Southern Africa, enset has only ever been domesticated and cultivated in one small region of southern Ethiopia, where it is a main staple. Cultivated for its corm (fleshy underground stem) and pseudostem (trunk), rather than for its fruit which is inedible, enset is sometimes called the ‘false banana’, though a more fitting moniker would be ‘the tree against hunger’ as it has exceptionally high productivity and the ability to buffer seasonal food deficit.

Abi Davis studied for a BSc in Environmental Science, where she learnt about the natural world, environmental conflicts and issues, society’s impact on the environment and sustainable solutions. But more than anything, she learnt about herself, and what she could achieve. For the first time in her educational life, at university Abi received tailored support to help adapt to her conditions; for years she had struggled with undiagnosed mental and physical health issues. At school and college, often too ill to attend, she ended up missing huge chunks of her education. Abi took five minutes out of her day to Skype with NRI Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, to describe how she’s now using her experiences to help others.

Agricultural lands currently occupy over 37% of the Earth’s land surface. With global food production projected to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population, it is vital that agricultural productivity is increased in a way that safeguards finite land resources and ecosystem services, whilst responding to climate change and other environmental concerns. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are increasing and multiple demands on agriculture, where it is a major contributor to economic growth and improving livelihoods, alongside food security.

16th October is World Food Day – and this year’s theme is ‘Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.’ It seems a fitting day to announce that a consortium of nine UK universities and research institutes, led by the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, has been awarded a prestigious grant from UKRI to create a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems thinkers.

The United Nations dedicates a day to rural women – this year Oct 15th – to recognise the crucial role women play in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, and for performing the bulk of unpaid domestic work, child rearing and care within rural homes.

Emotional health, well-being, welfare, state of mind, psychological state – we use many phrases to describe mental health, and it’s becoming increasingly common to discuss mental health openly. The recent lockdown has robbed us of many things, including at NRI, regular face-to-face interaction with our colleagues and the opportunity to pick up on clues that someone’s mental health might be suffering.

NRI PhD student, Christina Conroy, is currently enjoying a winning streak. This year she has been awarded three separate prizes for her work from the Royal Entomological Society, the Society of Chemical Industry and the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. Christina takes up the story …

What implications will the pandemic have on the daily lives of people around the globe? How will the lockdowns, layoffs and food shortages affect people’s mental health, relationships, work, income, and expectations of their government? Life with Corona is a not-for-profit research project designed to capture the voices and moods of affected citizens around the world.

Laxmi Prasad Pant, Senior Lecturer/Researcher Human Geography/Food Systems |

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a ‘perfect storm’ to expose the fault lines of the industrial food system [1] – millions of young broiler chickens buried alive, vegetables ploughed under the soil, and milk dumped, all due to disruptions in the supply chain. Simultaneously, people increasingly depend on charities and relief workers to secure their next meal. Regardless of the pandemic, industrial modernization has already pushed regionally oriented traditional food systems to the margins, partly because of the perceived food quality and safety issues and fast, modern lifestyles.

Wetlands, including marshes, swamps, bogs and fens, exist at the intersection between land and water. Many of these landscapes are beautiful, ethereal places, and a source of inspiration to artists, poets, writers and photographers. They are important for wildlife habitats, act as flood defences, and are great recreational spaces.

Over one million tonnes of small, whitebait-like fish are caught in the Great Lakes and rivers of eastern and central Africa each year. Small pelagic fish (SPF) are one of the best sources of micronutrients and essential vitamins, and they are affordable by the people most at risk of malnutrition and stunting. Known colloquially as Dagaa, Mukene, Usipa and Kapenta, large quantities of SPF are harvested, mainly by small-scale fishers, processed by small-scale processors and marketed through traditional market channels.