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Global research projects co-designed with experts in East Africa awarded UKRI funding

Press release issued: 21 October 2019

From helping schools improve earthquake mitigation plans, to enabling farmers to detect fish stocks and seasonal droughts, researchers are collaborating with regional partners in a bid to deliver strategic responses to prescient challenges.

Three teams from the University of Bristol have been awarded a total of £800,383 from the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which aims to bolster innovation within the UK and developing countries by encouraging co-designed projects with practical applications that are mindful of local needs and sensitivities.

In all, the GCRF has awarded £14.8m, shared between UK Higher Education institutions and global research partners, aimed at delivering scalable solutions to issues faced by low and middle income countries.

875 million school children live in earthquake prone regions, where the lack of resources hinders effective seismic mitigation strategies. This is especially true in Malawi, where earthquakes can result in devastating human and school infrastructure loss.

Anastasios Sextos, Professor Earthquake Engineering, will lead a team of researchers as they work with the Malawi Geological Survey Department, alongside other local government bodies and academic institutions, to codesign novel tools that can reliably assess seismic hazards for school buildings. Their findings will also enable Malawi to prioritise areas that need to be better safeguarded against earthquake risks.

Severe water shortage is another pressing development challenge in East Africa; ten droughts since 2000 have led to three severe famines affecting millions of East Africans. Droughts are set to become more intense and more frequent due to climate change, creating a pressing need for timely, and practical information about water resources, particularly for rural agro-pastoral populations which are distant from decision-making centres.

Dr Katerina Michaelides, an expert in hydrology and geomorphology, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi will develop a mobile app to provide seasonal forecasts of water scarcity in rural Kenyan drylands that should help address this challenge.  For example, a seasonal forecast of low or highly variable soil moisture associated with a crop type will allow farmers to consider changing crop variety (e.g. to a drought resistant type) for that season.

Dr Michaelides said: “We’re very excited for this new collaboration that will provide users in rural drylands with state-of-the art, seasonal forecasts of water scarcity that go beyond rainfall and into useable water in the ground.”

In Tanzania, Martin Genner, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, will deploy a team of researchers to collaborate with the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute as they seek to improve tilapia fish production using DNA-based surveillance information. This project has been conceived in response to an anticipated surge in the demand for fish protein based on UN estimates that the population of Tanzania is expected to increase from 56 million in 2018 to 129 million by 2050.  Although tilapia is the most commonly cultured species group, their production in Tanzania has not yet expanded in line with demand, with access to appropriate brood-stock and education cited as limiting factors.

The project will be critical for smallholder acquacultralists from Tanzania, who are responsible for most of tilapia production, and will benefit from being able to identify large-bodied, high-yielding fish species.

Andrew Wray, Head of Knowledge Exchange at Bristol, said: "We are very pleased with this award. We have a very successful track record in obtaining translational funding and managing it efficiently to produce the best impact on society and we are making a lot of effort to ensure our impact is global. We are very excited to be able to contribute to realising the University of Bristol’s strategy of embedding ODA research within our research culture and maximising the opportunities for delivering ODA impacts. This award will help place the University of Bristol amongst the leaders in promoting the economic development and welfare of ODA countries."

All of these projects and the others awarded by the GCRF have been funded as part of UKRI’s GCRF Innovation and Commercialisation Programme, developed to fast track promising research findings into real-world solutions.

UKRI Director of International Development, Professor Helen Fletcher, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to fund 18 projects through the Global Research Translation awards. Each and every one will make a massive difference to peoples’ lives in communities spread across the world to ensure some of the most challenged communities have a brighter future.

“Over the next year and a half, UK researchers will work with their international counterparts, policy makers, businesses and local organisations to turn promising research into solutions that can be taken forward through various pathways such as spin-out companies and social enterprises to make a positive difference to people who live with the reality of challenges such as climate change, poor sanitation and disease every day.”

Further information

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, Innovate UK and Research England. 

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