By Abdulkareem Mojeed

The grant is to be used to develop self-fertilising crops for African farmers

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday announced that a Cambridge University-led project to develop self-fertilising crops for African farmers has been awarded a $35 million grant from its Agricultural Innovations project.

In a statement issued by the foundation, it said the $35 million will cover the Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) research programme over the next five years.

“A Cambridge University-led project to develop self-fertilising crops for African farmers has become the latest grantee of Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations (Gates Ag One),” the statement said.

The foundation noted that the research consortium focuses on improving nutrient uptake by food plants to reduce the need for fertiliser across some of the world’s most degraded land.

Commenting on the development, the Chief Executive Officer of Gates Ag One, Joe Cornelius, said, “The pioneering work of ENSA is fundamental to levelling the playing field for smallholder farmers in Africa, leveraging the latest crop technology to ensure all communities have the chance to thrive.”

He explained that “breakthrough” advances in crop science and innovation mean intractable challenges like nutrient uptake and soil health need not hold back agricultural development.

“We’re delighted that Gates Ag One can support ENSA to continue its work to meet the needs of smallholder farmers,” Mr Cornelius said.

On his part, Director of the Crop Science Centre and Russell R Geiger, Giles Oldroyd, said, “African agriculture is at an inflection point, with vastly increasing demand at a time when supply is at risk, especially due to a changing climate.”

The Crop Science professor noted that the outcomes of this work have the potential to see gains as great as those from the Green Revolution, but without relying on costly and polluting inorganic fertilisers.

“Increasing production of crops sustainably in smallholder farming systems, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, directly addresses some of the worst poverty on the planet,” he said.

According to the statement, ENSA is the latest research project to receive funding from Gates Ag One, which recently announced a grant for the Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency project, of which Cambridge University is a collaborator.

A not-for-profit subsidiary of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates Ag One was created to leverage global crop science to meet the needs of smallholder farmers in Africa and South Asia.

The foundation said, “It focuses on accelerating research that enhances the biological processes of six priority food crops: cassava, cowpea, maize, rice, sorghum, and soybean.”

It emphasised that the “Gates Ag One” works to level the playing field and empower smallholder farmers to transform their agricultural productivity, nutrition security and climate resilience.

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