Date of release: Thursday, November 19, 2015

World-leading research and development by the university's Natural Resources Institute (NRI) has been honoured with a prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

The award was announced tonight (19 November) at a ceremony at St James's Palace in London. Her Majesty the Queen is to present the university with a silver gilt medallion and prize-winner's certificate during a special reception at Buckingham Palace next year.

The prize recognises the university's outstanding work on cassava, a tropical root crop which is a staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. NRI's innovative research and development at every step in cassava's journey "from farm to fork" has improved crop production and the incomes of rural farming communities.

NRI's achievements include helping to tackle the pests and diseases that can reduce crop yields, in order to give farmers sufficient food to eat and produce to sell.  At the same time, business development projects now mean that cassava roots are being made into higher value, longer life products, opening up new markets. Innovative means of reducing waste in the food chain, and creating new added-value products from these "waste" products, have created new enterprise opportunities.  Underpinning NRI's work is a focus on capacity strengthening of local partners.

Over 30 cassava experts are behind these achievements, with expertise spanning molecular biology, entomology, food technology, market economics and social development. They are working in collaboration with partners in 17 countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. The main external funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission. Together, they contribute towards a current portfolio of cassava projects totalling £18.8 million, and their backing over the last ten years has helped to support almost £30million of cassava work.

NRI is part of the Faculty of Engineering & Science. It carries out world-class research and development in agriculture, climate change, foods and markets, specialising in tropical and temperate regions. It draws upon its international research and development work to underpin its taught MSc programmes in agricultural and food sciences, as well as undergraduate programmes in biology and environmental sciences.

The Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor David Maguire, welcomed the award. He says: "The whole university is hugely proud of this great honour; it's a great accolade for NRI and another clear indicator of their exceptional, word class work in this field.

"The prize is also a wonderful tribute to our international funders and partners. They have helped us to apply our expertise on a global scale, transforming the lives of some of the world's poorest communities."

Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, says: "The UK is a world leader in science and research. The outstanding academics recognised with these awards bring benefits to the everyday lives of millions of people and deserve this high honour for their work."

Queen's Anniversary Prizes are awarded to universities and colleges by the Royal Anniversary Trust. They recognise excellence, innovation, impact and benefit for the winning institution and for people and society generally in the wider world. 

Kieran Poynter, Chair of the Royal Anniversary Trust, says: "The prizes illustrate the variety and quality of innovative work being done in our universities and colleges. They encourage our institutions to think about what they are doing in terms of practical benefit as well as intrinsic quality. The work being recognised combines a track record of outstanding achievement with the promise of future development."

Story by Public Relations

Image captions:

  1. Professor John Colvin and Ms Cathy Gwandu, a PhD student, collecting whitefly specimens from a cassava field in central Malawi (picture by Sue Seal).
  2. Dr Sharon Van Brunschot , a visiting scientist, involved in whitefly research.