How do you provide healthy, sustainable food for world of the future?

Date: 14th November 2019

New partnership with global agriculture research giant to focus on tackling challenge of health, environmental and social sustainability in foodFarmers around the world can be helped to grow the best food that is fit for future generations with help from a new development in the partnership between the University of Reading and International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, (ICRISAT).

TAAsigning12A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed today (14 November 2019) and will see nutrition/health and crop scientists from the two internationally-renowned research centres commit to working closer together. Their research will focus on tackling how crops will provide a healthy and sustainable diet for future generations that face multiple challenges including climate change and growing worldwide obesity.

Researchers from both institutions will be working together to develop scientific understanding and training resources to address key questions on the value of food crops. Through ICRISAT's expertise working in the toughest and driest zones across the world, the work will look to address key food system questions in places that are worst hit by water shortages, degraded soils and poverty and also those hardest hit by climate change.

Professor Ian Givens, Director of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading said:

"We are excited about this new partnership that will provide opportunities to tackle the biggest questions in global food production and are delighted that ICRISAT have chosen to work with us on this challenge.

"For many years now the University of Reading has pioneered new and important research on the relationship between diet and chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. More recently this has extended into the relationship between diet and more detailed predictors of disease risk including effects on brain function, a complex story also involving the gut microbiota.

"An important aspect of modern nutrition is obtaining a clear understanding of the nutritional characteristics of foods, both in terms of traditional nutrients but also their impact on our physiology e.g. cognition.

"This approach to modern nutrition is one of the key areas that we will be working with ICRISAT on in their fight to provide food fit for future generations."

The role of the gut microbiome in human nutrition, the effect of diet on human health, and the implications for plant breeding are among a series of topics that the partnership will begin to focus on. Research will concentrate on crops called 'Smart Foods', such as the millets, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnuts.

The development of research into these crops already growing in drylands of Asia and Sub- Saharan Africa could see breakthroughs that support new, more resilient crops grown alongside traditional staples to feed the more than 2bn people who live in these areas. The new work will also ensure that research into these crops will address the fact that more than 650 million who live in such areas are at the highest risk of malnutrition and food scarcity, while also meeting a growing consumer demand around the world for more nutritious foods.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director for Genetic Gains and Director of Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT said:

"We are very excited to have this partnership with IFNH, University of Reading. With their expertise in cutting-edge areas of microbiome and nutrition research, and our research experience in genomics and modern breeding of smart food crops, ICRISAT with its partners is well positioned now to contribute to improving nutrition in India and sub-Saharan Africa, and support countries that provide a major proportion of food to the rest of the world."

Joanne Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General of External Relations, at ICRISAT and Executive Director of Smart Food said:

"Sustainable food and health solutions will need to ensure a three-fold purpose, that they are good for you, good for the planet and good for the farmer.

"Such solutions are enabled by moving away from working in silos and finding answers to challenges together. We have a vision to bring these Smart Foods into mainstream diets. This is vital if we are to have a lasting positive impact on health, the environment and the farmers."

Ahead of the formal signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, representatives from both institutions joined a prestigious lecture event held by the Tropical Agriculture Association. Lectures, delivered by Professors Julie Lovegrove and Chris Reynolds from the University of Reading and Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director for Genetic Gains from ICRISAT outlined the need for "smarter foods" which provide healthy diets for humanity and the environment.

About the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health

The Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), University of Reading brings together the University of Reading's world-leading expertise in food, nutrition, health and their interaction with agriculture and the environment to understand how improvements in food production, processing and nutrition can help deliver better diets and health.

The focus is to support effective multi-disciplinary collaborations, both among researchers and academics across the full breadth of the University, as well as with external organisations who share the University's strategic ambitions to explore, innovate and educate in the overlapping areas of food, nutrition and health.

The Institute's role is to generate significant added value by supporting and facilitating opportunities for the identification, development and exploitation of multi-disciplinary opportunities, maximising and synergising the strengths that exist in different areas of the University. We apply our expertise with industry, consumers and governments, to address global issues including diet and chronic disease risk and the related effects of climate change, resource degradation, hunger and poverty. Our research is supported by a wide range of world-class, established and successful research centres and facilities that our partners can access.


The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) is an international non-profit organization that conducts agricultural research to bring prosperity to the small holder farmers in the drylands of Asia and Africa. ICRISAT has a specialty in millets, sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnuts. ICRISAT is internationally recognised for its research in plant genetics and breeding of crops most critical for the survival of farmers in the drylands of Asia and Africa. The results are new improved crop varieties and hybrids which meet the demands of the farmer and industry. ICRISAT's Centre of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology is engaged in upstream research including understanding the impact of ICRISAT's mandate crops on human health by analysing and understanding the gut microbiome. ICRISAT also founded "Smart Food" now led by the largest agricultural networks in Africa and Asia, along with ICRISAT, working closely with consumers and industry. ICRISAT's global headquartered is in Hyderabad, India and it has offices in eight countries in Africa. It is a research center of the CGIAR (a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future). See:;, scientific information: and

About Smart Food

The Smart Food initiative is a global initiative to bring foods that fulfil all criteria of being good for you, the planet and the farmer into mainstream. The key objective of Smart Food is to diversify staples with Smart Foods, starting with millets and sorghum. Given that staples often constitute 70% of a meal and typically comprise of refined carbohydrate, hence little nutrition, this is where we can have big impact.

Image credit: Children being served finger millet porridge in Tanzania. Credit: Christine Wangari/ICRISAT

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