Aerial view of tractor harvesting crops

Working alongside industry, an Imperial initiative has helped to boost crop yields sustainably and ensure access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round (SDG 2).

With the world’s population estimated to grow to nine billion by 2050, demand for food is expected to rise by 50 per cent, putting pressure on farming and food production.  

NexGenAgriChem is an innovative, multidisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme, run by Imperial and world-leading agrochemical company, Syngenta, which is finding ways to increase plateauing yields whilst making crop production environmentally sustainable and resilient to changes in the climate.

The programme breaks down boundaries between the Physical sciences and the Agri-sciences - quite unique in the UK and EU.

Students work on a collection of complimentary research projects, to develop new technologies to explore how agrochemicals, including fertilisers and insecticides, are transported within plant cells. They also look at how they interact once they reach their target.

Several students from the programme have established successful agri-tech startups. For example, FungiAlert, has developed a device that acts as an early detection system for phytophthora: a soil-based pathogen, estimated to destroy harvests worth up to $2-7 billion, per crop, each year. It alerts farmers to the risk of infection before disease can take hold, allowing them to take action.

Meanwhile, another startup, AnywhereHPLC, is developing a handheld device, to monitor pesticide levels in the soil. By giving instant results it means less carbon-emitting travel for lab tests and a reduction in the over-fertilisation of crops, decreasing negative environmental impact. 
Dr Laura Barter, Director of NexGenAgriChem, said: “By directly partnering with industry, our students learn about the agrochemical innovation pipeline, turn their research into practical tools which are having a significant impact upon society.”

Molecular Sciences Research Hub

NexGenAgriChem is based at Imperial's new Molecular Sciences Research Hub (MSRH)Designed to break down traditional barriers between scientific disciplines, the MSRH convenes the collective expertise of more than 800 scientists, clinicians, engineers and business partners under one roof to address global challenges across areas such as energy, healthcare and sustainability.