I confess I haven’t spent too much time on planning European projects of late, I’m more interested in the opportunities opening up further afield. The UK Government is pushing hard for a much stronger engagement with countries beyond Europe, support development and innovation. The Newton Fund is worth £735 million, and is about developing partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of collaborating countries. I’m now involved in a major Newton Fund project with China (check our my blog from last February), that is looking at the implications of moving away from reliance on chemical fertilisers to much greater use of organic wastes. The Global Challenges Research Fund is twice this size, and is about supporting cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
The N8 AgriFood Programme is proving well placed for this new focus on international work. This is partly from the way we are being seen as a valuable 1 stop shop from people who want to engage with UK research. So last spring, we hosted two major fact finding visits from Brazil, and we were able to identify some of the potential common research interests and bring on board some of the most relevant people from the UK. I’ll be there next month to explore further potential collaborations about sustainable land management, and to check out one of the research farms there, so that we can better build collaborations across continents using data on crops, livestock, soil, water, weather and so on. These data don’t mean much by themselves, but they are vital to build models and understanding to needed to develop tools and approaches to allow farmers to cope with the increasingly variable weather patterns we are all facing. Also, research is a social activity; it's important for us to meet people, work together, learn from each other, come up with new ideas and feel part of things. For me, it''s a huge part of what makes my job so enjoyable.