£5.3m joint investment to support sustainable food production in Latin America

£5.3m joint investment to support sustainable food production in Latin America

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council. (NERC), recently invested in seven projects awarded through the Newton Fund to provide solutions for long term, sustainable production of food in Colombia and Mexico. Projects include those to help boost the Mexican avocado crop and supporting Colombian cattle.

The changing climate and the need to feed a growing world population is putting significant strains on food production systems globally and solutions are required to enhance agricultural production in a sustainable way. By addressing the water needs and heat tolerance of crops as well as the impact of livestock grazing, the partnerships will address this challenge.

Tim Willis, BBSRC Associate Director International, said: “This important research will benefit poor farmers in Latin America, providing evidence-based approaches to manage livestock, protect biodiversity and reduce the pressure on freshwater supplies”.

The projects that have been funded are:

UK-Colombia: Sustainable Tropical Agriculture Systems (Stage 2)

  1. Advancing sustainable forage-based livestock production systems in Colombia (CoForLife), Prof Jon Moorby, Aberystwyth University / Dr Jacobo Arango, CIAT
  2. Towards BIOSmart livestock farming in Colombia: cultural landscapes, silvo-pastoral systems and biodiversity, Dr Maria Paula Escobar, University of Bristol / Dr Marcela Quintero, CIAT
  3. Bean Breeding for Adaptation to a Changing Climate and Post-Conflict Colombia (BBACO), Prof Donal O’Sullivan, University of Reading / Dr Stephen Beebe, CIAT

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and supporting farming while protecting the environment poses a great challenge for the country. Working with the CGIAR International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based in Cali, Colombia, UK researchers will tackle this challenge.

UK-Mexico: Improving Mexican Crop Resilience to Abiotic Stress.

  1. Safeguarding Sonora’s wheat from climate change, Dr Sigrid Heuer, Rothamsted Research / Dr Elisa Valenzuela-Soto, Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo (CIAD)
  1. Exploiting night-time traits to improve wheat yield and water use efficiency in the warming climate of North-western Mexico, Dr Erik Murchie, University of Nottingham / Prof Jamie Garatuza-Payan, Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora (ITSON)
  1. Improving water use and accelerating breeding pipelines in Mexican avocado, Dr Stuart Casson, University of Sheffield / Dr Rafael Urrea-Lopez, Centro de Investigación y Asistencia en Tecnología y Diseño del Estado de Jalisco (CIATEJ)
  1. Development of beneficial microbiome communities to increase the resistance against abiotic stress in Carica papaya and Capsicum annuum, Dr Patrick Schäfer, University of Warwick / Dr Wilberth Chan Cupul, University of Colima

The investment in these projects is being made in partnership with the Science and Technology Councils of the Mexican States of Colima (CECYTCOL), Jalisco (COECYTJAL), and Sonora (COECYT).

In Mexico, food production is seriously threatened by heat and drought. The lack of rainfall in 2011 caused a devastating drought affecting 70% of the country. Climate change is expected to exaggerate the occurrence of long dry spells. Growing crop varieties that require less watering or can cope better with heat could allow farmers to sustain their livelihoods as the climate warms.

Projects funded to safeguard agriculture in Mexico will explore the relationship of wheat and avocado (1/3 of avocados in the world are produced in Mexico) with water. The goal is to find new ways to improve breeding commercial varieties that use water more efficiently.

Learning from nature and exploiting beneficial fungi found on plant roots could be the way forward to protect fruit trees from drought and one of the projects will test this idea on papaya production, another major Mexican produce.

Meat, dairy products and beans are major sources of protein and farmer income and the three projects funded to support sustainable agriculture in Colombia will be looking to improve the quality and yield of these food groups, enabling small holder farmers to produce nutritious food locally. Livestock grazing and ways to minimise the negative impact it can have on the environment is at the forefront by investigating different types of grasses used as feed and silvopastoral farming, an approach combining forestry and grazing.

About the Newton Fund

The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 active partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

The Newton Fund is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 7 UK delivery partners, which includes UK Research and Innovation (comprising the 7 research councils and Innovate UK), the UK Academies, the British Council and the Met Office.

About UKRI

UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, InnovateUK and Research England.

 For further information visit the Newton Fund website www.newtonfund.ac.uk and follow via Twitter: @NewtonFund

About the Mexican funders

For the first time since the Newton Fund arrived to Mexico a call was launched at state level. COECYTCOL, COECYTJAL and COECYT are state representatives of the National Council for Science and Technology based at the important states of Colima, Jalisco and Sonora respectively. Funding was approved by each governor and came directly from state resources.

For further information visit the Newton Fund website www.newtonfund.ac.uk and follow via Twitter: @NewtonFund
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