$34m grant for crop project involving Essex scientists

  • Date

    Thu 15 Dec 22

Field of soybean plants

An international crop productivity research project involving scientists from the University of Essex has been awarded a grant of $34 million.

The Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) project, led by scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has demonstrated large increases in crop productivity in field trials during its ten-year history.

The grant, from Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations (Gates Ag One), will support RIPE researchers over the next four years. The project will continue to look for further gains, with a focus on increasing the photosynthetic efficiency of cowpea and soybean.

RIPE director Professor Stephen Long, from the University of Illinois, began his scientific career at Essex where he was based for more than 20 years.

Explaining the project’s next phase, he said: “Cowpea is a major vegetable protein source for smallholder farmers in Africa. We’ll also focus on African cultivars of soybean, a rapidly developing protein and oil source on the continent.”

RIPE has pursued the theory that the process of photosynthesis in crops could be engineered to increase productivity and the new grant will expand on this work, accelerating progress to deliver benefits to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Originally funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the US Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, RIPE will continue under the auspices of Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations, a not-for-profit subsidiary of BMGF created to leverage global crop science to meet the needs of smallholder farmers in Africa and South Asia.

“We’re thrilled to support such ground-breaking work,” said Joe Cornelius, the CEO of Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations. “Optimizing the biological processes of crops has profound implications for small-scale agriculture in developing countries, unlocking improvements in productivity without requiring more inputs from farmers with limited resources.”

Professor Christine Raines, Professor Tracy Lawson and Dr Amanda Cavanagh, who are members of Essex’s Plant Productivity Group in the School of Life Sciences, will work on the next phase of the RIPE project.

Professor Raines said: “We are all very pleased to be part of the new award to the RIPE project to deliver benefits to small holder farmers. We have been involved in this project since its inception in 2012 and look forward to this next phase of the work with Bill and Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations.”