Harnessing agricultural ecosystem biodiversity for bean production and food security

Donor: UK Darwin Initiative (DfID/Defra)   
Value: £288,762.00
Project profile on the UK Darwin Initiative website

This project will survey plant and invertebrate biodiversity in bean ecosystems in Tanzania and Malawi and evaluate their ecologies and identify plant species that (i) attract, nourish and provide habitat for natural enemies of pests; (ii) promote the activity of pollinator insects in crops and (iii) provide environmentally-benign ‘botanical insecticides’ as additional control for pests. This will require a systematic analysis of roles and interactions of pest and biological control species/habitats, supporting development of management systems that increase productivity through strategic integration of biodiversity. Using this knowledge we will develop interventions that maintain and optimise these ecosystem services.




Safe and effective pesticidal plants for agro-ecological intensification of legumes

Donor: McKnight Foundation
Value: £192,186.00
Project profile on the McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Programme website

The overall goal of the project is to demonstrate farmer relevant pest management practices that can reduce crop losses to pests in Malawi and Tanzania through the development and optimization of plant-based pest management technologies that are simple, effective, reliable, safe, low-cost and appropriate for the control of field and storage insect pests of legume crops grown by poor farmers. The technologies will be based on widely distributed and easily cultivated species such as Tephrosia vogelii, Tanacetum cinerariifolium (Pyrethrum), Tithonia diversifolia, Lantana camara, Vernonia amygdalina, Lippia javanica and Dysphania ambrosioides as well as indigenous woody plants such as Zanha africana and Securidaca longepedunculata. In carrying out this general goal, we plan to build technical capacity for a pesticidal plant sector by supporting and mentoring Masters students who will have opportunities to carry out a range of lab, field and farm based research cutting across disciplines of natural product chemistry, entomology, chemical ecology, insect behaviour as well as experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, working with farmers and using analytical tools. A second goal is to help champion the development of the pesticidal plant value chain in Africa by working with businesses and policy makers in order to increase supply and demand of pest control options suitable for integration into agro-ecological intensification programmes.


SAFE Hub - Sustainable Agriculture From Ecological-intensification


Project under development

Partners: See project page

The SAFE Hub will overcome barriers to wide ecological intensification (EI) adoption by:

  1. Collating existing evidence and facilitating new interdisciplinary research to investigate the social, economic and ecological viability of EI within current and future farming systems relevant to each region.
  2. Building active partnerships and collaborative ways of working between farmers, policymakers, industry, retailers and EI researchers, to raise awareness and build capacity.
  3. Developing content for evidence-based awareness-raising and training materials relating to the importance and management of ecosystem services in agriculture.
  4. Ensuring relevance to local context and whole systems, through understanding local trends to focus on different levels of policy change to influence: policy Instruments (e.g., targeted investment), overall policy (i.e., challenge conventions aligned to conventional agricultural inputs), and stimulate policy paradigm shifts.
  5. Co-developing mechanisms for appropriate, accessible, and reliable agricultural advice in each region, with particular focus on issues of justice, equity and ethics.

The SAFE hub will demonstrate that the benefits flowing from investment in EI innovations greatly outweigh the costs of inaction


Innovation for improved strawberry pollination by commercial bumblebees using caffeine 

BBSRC logo

Berry Gardens Growers Ltd       Biobest Ltd

Donor: BBSRC IPA with Biobest Ltd and Berry Gardens Growers Ltd.
Value: £300,000
Partners: NRI, NIAB EMR, Berry Gardens Growers Ltd., Biobest Ltd.
Project page on NRI website

This project is investigaing whether it is possible to prime managed bumblebees on strawberry farms to prefer foraging on the flowers of the crop, in order to pollinate them more effectively. The project is carrying out experiments to test the ability of caffeine to improve crop pollination in field and laboratory settings. Bumblebees are provided experimentally with caffeinated nectar alongside a synthetic strawberry flower's scent. Since caffeine improves bees' memory for the scents of flowers, we are evaluating whether these bees show increased foraging activity and attraction to strawberry flowers when they receive this priming treatment. We predict that if the preference of commercial bumblebees for strawberries is improved, the bees will visit more flowers, be more efficient at pollinating the crop and thus will enable the production of higher-quality, more valuable fruit.