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£10M UK-India Virtual Joint Centres in Agricultural Nitrogen

Copyright: YuriyS

A £10M investment from the Newton-Bhabha fund will support collaboration between UK and Indian scientists which will help meet the challenge of sustainably producing enough food for a growing population whilst reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding (£5M from the UK with matched resources from India) will create four new Virtual Joint Centres in Agricultural Nitrogen delivered in partnership by BBSRC, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department of Biotechnology India (DBT).

The centres will be established between leading UK and Indian researchers to deliver training, capacity building and innovative research which will inform the sustainable use of nitrogen fertiliser in Indian agriculture. The Centres comprise multiple research organisations in the UK and India, with each Centre representing a ~£2.5M co-investment from the Indian Department of Biotechnology and the UK Research Councils.

Nitrogen is a crucial fertiliser for crops and there is a global need to optimise its use in agriculture. A balance must be struck between the provision of adequate nitrogen to maximise crop yields, the energy-intensive process of manufacturing synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and the release of excess reactive nitrogen to the environment. Research undertaken at these Centres will focus on development of solutions to address this Nitrogen problem.

This investment further strengthens collaborative research between the UK and India in the bio and environmental sciences and forms part of a wider strategic partnership between the Department of Biotechnology in India and the UK Research Councils.

Steve Visscher, BBSRC Deputy Chief Executive – International, said: “The Department of Biotechnology India is a key strategic partner for BBSRC and I am delighted that the Newton Fund has enabled BBSRC, NERC and DBT India to invest in four new Virtual Joint Centres in Agricultural Nitrogen.

“Optimising nitrogen fertiliser is essential to the challenge of sustainably feeding a growing world population as well as mitigating the impact of agriculture on our environment. Scientists at the new centres will conduct innovative research pursuing the production of high crop yields with lower inputs of nitrogen fertiliser.”

The UK-India Virtual Joint Centres form part of a larger Newton Fund investment in Agricultural Nitrogen which will fund complementary virtual joint centres with China and Brazil.

The UK-India Virtual Joint Centres in Agricultural Nitrogen are:

  • India-UK Nitrogen Fixation Centre (IUNFC) – Professor Philip Poole, University of Oxford working with Dr D.L.N Rao, ICAR Indian Institute of Soil Science and researchers at the John Innes Centre, University of Baroda, University of Calcutta, University of Hyderabad, ICAR India Agricultural Research Institute and The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi.
    This Virtual Joint Centre aims to tackle problems of food security, environmental and economic challenges of crop production and soil improvement in India through world class fundamental and applied research on biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). In the short/medium term, this knowledge will lead to changes in agricultural practices in India, bringing economic, environmental and social benefits. In the longer term, it will provide a platform to engineer nitrogen fixation in cereal crops.
  • Newton-Bhabha Virtual Centre on Nitrogen Efficiency of Whole-cropping Systems for improved performance and resilience in agriculture (NEWS India-UK) – Professor Mark Sutton, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology working with Professor N. Raghuram, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and researchers at the University of Aberdeen, The University of Edinburgh, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Indian Institute for Rice Research and the Aligarh Muslim University.
    This Virtual Joint Centre will provide research into the problem of optimising nitrogen use for crop production in India; it will promote greater nitrogen-use efficiency and use of on-farm nitrogen sources to improve the economic development and welfare of farmers in India. NEWS India-UK is expected to have a significant impact on improving resource use efficiency and thereby contributing to improved food security and poverty alleviation, while at the same time improving quality of life through a cleaner environment. The Centre will establish a Fellowship Scheme to promote training and exchanges of early career scientists.
  • Cambridge-India Network for Translational Research in Nitrogen – Dr Tina Barsby, National Institute of Agricultural Botany working with Dr Rajeev Gupta, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics with researchers at the University of Cambridge, Punjab Agricultural University and the National Institute of Plant Genome Research.
    This Virtual Joint Centre will exploit and translate developmental biology research into innovation in nitrogen use by farmers.  It will deliver a translational pipeline to produce new cereal varieties for optimized nitrogen use in agriculture. The Centre will provide extensive training in developmental research and translation, and generate new knowledge to optimise biological Nitrogen use for sustainable intensification.
  • Indo-UK Centre for the improvement of Nitrogen use Efficiency in Wheat (INEW) – Professor Peter Shewry, Rothamsted Research working with Dr Karnam Venkatesh, Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research with researchers at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, The University of Nottingham, University of Bristol, the John Innes Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology, Borlaug Institute South Asia, Punjab Agriculture University and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources.
    This Virtual Joint Centre brings together major UK and Indian wheat researchers with programmes on wheat improvement to determine the genetic control of nitrogen use efficiency in wheat. The Centre will coordinate activities, harmonise protocols, provide training opportunities for early career scientists and generate a unique range of genetic material, skills and research facilities. Significant economic and environmental impacts will be achieved through the sustainable intensification of wheat production, which will reduce the use of nitrogen fertilisers by farmers, thus reducing crop production costs for farmers and the release of reactive nitrogen into the environment.


Tags: crops farming food funding international news Newton Fund