Using research power to tackle global issues


The University of Leeds has secured part of a new £147 million research initiative to work with developing nations on the world's biggest challenges.

Leeds academics and researchers will be involved in a range of projects, including ways of improving mental health, transforming food production, building sustainable futures and reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance. 

The money to finance the projects is from the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which supports cutting-edge research to address the global issues faced by developing countries. It is part of the UK Government’s overseas aid budget or Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The UK’s research system has a crucial role to play in finding solutions to... environmental disasters, extreme poverty and food security.

Professor Andrew Thompson, UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – which administers GCRF – said 141 new international research projects had been funded through UKRI's Collective Programme. The projects where Leeds is the lead institution are:

  • Mainstreaming global mental health: a praxus nexus approach - led by Professor Anna Madill, School of Psychology.

  • Scaling-up biocontrol interventions in Africa - led by Dr Steve Sait, School of Biology.

  • African food systems transformation and justice - led by Dr Stephen Whitfield, School of Earth and Environment.

  • Partnerships for equity and inclusion - led by Dr Ghazala Mir, School of Medicine.

  • Farmers' perspectives on challenges in the food system: a collaborative research partnership – led by Professor Anne Tallontire, School of Earth and Environment.

  • Engaging communities to address antimicrobial resistance: identifying contextualised and sustainable community-led solutions in low resource settings; and Developing community-led solutions to antimicrobial resistance: building a one health approach in low to middle income countries – both projects led by Dr Rebecca King, School of Medicine.

Leeds researchers are involved as co-investigators in other projects, including:

  • A project involving natural and social scientists to identify the causes and impacts of peatland fires in Indonesian Borneo, in the Kalimantan region. The principal investigator at Leeds is Professor Dominick Spracklen, School of Earth and EnvironmentThe project is being led by Exeter University.

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI’s International Champion, said: “Working in partnership with developing nations, the UK’s research and innovation system has a crucial role to play in finding innovative solutions to interlinked issues such as environmental disasters, extreme poverty and food security.

These international development research projects announced today are essential to finding these solutions.”

Pollution, including plastic waste, washed onto a beach.

Waste - including plastic - is washed onto a beach. Photo: Pixabay. 

Earlier UKRI announced a major GCRF award to tackle global plastic pollution - the Reducing the Impacts of Plastic Waste in Developing Countries programmeLeeds won funding to work with partners in Indonesia. The nation has inadequate waste collection services, with around only 39 percent of waste being collected and disposed of properly. 

Dr Costas Velis - an expert in plastic pollution and solid waste management, in the School of Civil Engineering at Leeds - said: “Indonesia is a dynamically developing nation. There is a challenge with waste management systems, such as lack of waste collection services, and a great reliance on plastic packaging, and that all comes together to generate plastic pollution problems. 

“Not only is it damaging the environment - it could also impact on Indonesia's reputation as a popular and beautiful tourist destination."

The co-investigator at Leeds is Dr Gordon Mitchell, Associate Professor in the School of Geography.

The Plastic pollution project in Indonesia is being led by Brunel University London with support from industry partner SYSTEMIQ and academics in Indonesia, the University of Plymouth and Leeds. Scientists at Leeds have developed cutting-edge expertise in the modelling of the way plastic flows through economies, identifying where plastic becomes waste – and how much of that is properly treated and how much ends up being discarded, ending up as pollution on land or in the seas. 

They have also published details of measures that could reduce plastic pollution.

Top picture: Pixabay.

For further information, please contact David Lewis in the press office at the University of Leeds: