Prof. Alison Baker awarded 4 year India partnering award by the BBSRC

The partnership is between the Centre for Plant Sciences and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

Professor Alison Baker has been awarded a 4 year partnering award by the BBSRC in collaboration with Professor Rajeev Varshney, Global Research Program Director of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in order to maintain and grow the collaboration with the Centre for Plant Sciences (CPS).

In April 2017, Prof Alison Baker was joined by Prof Jurgen Denecke, Dr Stefan Kepinski and Dr Katie Field to visit ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, India, hosted by Prof Varshney. ICRISAT is one of 15 CGIAR Research for Development Institutes and is headquartered in Hyderabad, India.  The majority of ICRISAT centres are based in Africa, including: Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mali and Niger. It supports the UN sustainable development goals and its mission is to overcome poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Their focus is on 6 mandate crops; sorghum, pearl and finger millet and 3 legumes; groundnut (or peanut), chickpea and pigeon pea. ICRISAT has multidisciplinary high class science on the ground in Asia and Africa and is recognised as independent. They possess exceptional genomics, computational biology and field phenotyping facilities. The Centre of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology (, led by Prof Varshney has been involved in production of draft genome sequences for chickpea, pigeon pea, peanut and pearl millet, re-sequencing of large-scale germplasm collections, identification of molecular markers and development of molecular breeding breeding lines.

“The purpose of our visit was to explore potential for collaborative projects that would help to transform research results into higher genetic gains for smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics. We discovered that our interests and expertise were highly complementary and this led to the application for a BBSRC India Partnering award to facilitate collaboration and joint projects.” – Alison Baker

According to ICRISAT, semi-arid tropics represent 40% of the world’s land area and over one third of the world’s population live in dryland regions. 644 million people living in drylands are considered as the poorest of the poor. These statistics alone express the potential impact of this research with a hopeful outcome of joint projects and publications.

We are excited to be a part of the BBSRC partnering award with Prof Alison Baker of University of Leeds. This collaboration will help us to translate advanced science Uni of Leeds is undertaking, in crop improvement programs of ICRISAT and its partners in sub-saharan Africa and Asia”, said Prof Varshney. He added, “The research collaboration with Uni of Leeds will help our scientists and early career researchers to understand biological phenomena involved in complex traits such as yield under drought stress and heterosis using modern biology tools and technologies.”

On the 13th and 14th June Prof. Baker has organised a symposium workshop in Leeds with funding from the University to discuss topics around ‘Plant Science for Food Security and Nutrition’. This will be attended by senior and junior members of CPS and ICRISAT as well as colleagues from Food Science and the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds. This workshop will allow attendees to meet a wider cross section of people and understand more about current research in the two institutions. The workshop will have a variety of sessions comprising of to discuss;

  • The semi-arid tropics; challenges and solutions
  • Underpinning Sciences for ICRISAT Mandate Crops
  • Seeds
  • Plants, Environment and systems

This symposium in June is the formal start of this partnering award, enabling a wider cross section of CPS members and others at Leeds to meet with the delegation from ICRISAT and to develop future collaborative activities between Leeds and ICRISAT.