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Two major collaborations involving researchers at the University of Oxford have been awarded over £12 million in funding.

Blue city in rajasthan india view from the mehrangarh fort By Mikadun

One  collaboration will focus on researching the challenges found in the 21st century city and the other will address systemic development issues in African agriculture.

The awards are part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which aims to consolidate research knowledge in the UK, and strengthen capacity overseas to address needs expressed in developing countries.

The collaborations will see researchers from the UK and developing countries working together as equal partners.

Andrew Thompson, GCRF Champion at Research Councils UK, said: “The 37 projects announced build research capacity both here in the UK and in developing countries to address systemic development challenges,  from African agriculture to sustainable cities, clean oceans, and green energy, to improved healthcare, food security, and gender equality.”

Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive designate of UK Research and Innovation, said: “In the same way that facing these global challenges requires a multi-national response, finding the solutions to them requires researchers from many disciplines to work together. The Global Challenges Research Fund makes that possible.”

PEAK (Prediction, Emergence, Adoption, Knowledge) Urban Programme

The four year project, led by Professor Michael Keith, Director of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), has been awarded in excess of £7 million to build skilled capacity for decision making on the urban future.

As people across the globe move to build new lives in the metropolis, cities are emerging as complex organisms. ‘Prediction, Emergence, Adoption, Knowledge’ (PEAK Urban) asserts that a radical realignment in urban management practice is imperative to make local, national and global progress against the 2030 sustainable global goals. To live up to the expectations of policy makers and politicians it is clear that there is a need for more cohesive and less splintered support from disparate urban specialists. PEAK Urban’s design links knowledge generation with knowledge uptake and capacity building.

Professor Keith said: "We aim to grow a new generation of interdisciplinary urbanists and a network of smarter cities working together across Africa, China, India, Colombia and the UK."

We aim to grow a new generation of interdisciplinary urbanists and a network of smarter cities working together across Africa, China, India, Colombia and the UK.’’

Professor Michael Keith, Director of COMPAS

The programme will develop new research and future leaders by drawing on different forms of expertise offered by: data analytics, historical analysis, mathematics, modelling, medicine, engineering, ethnography, finance, technology, planning and good governance.

Partners include: University of Cape Town; Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bangalore; Peking University; Universirt of Sao Paulo; Universidad EAFIT, Medellin; and the Alan Turing Institute.

SENTINEL: Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture

The project entitled ‘Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture’ (SENTINEL), led by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), has been awarded £5 million to investigate how to achieve food security whilst protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services and promoting social equity.

The project involves a range of higher education institutions and stakeholders. The University of Oxford component is being led Nathalie Seddon, Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Zoology and Dr Monika Zurek, senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, and will focus on strengthening capacity of UK science to address development challenges; while facilitating work on agricultural scenarios.

The project aims to address systemic development challenges in African agriculture. It will draw on the challenges outlined by UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (Zero Hunger), 15 (Life on Land) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities). Focusing on three African countries, it aims to improve our understanding of the different ways of developing agriculture without impacting negatively on the natural environment and depriving people of the goods it has historically provided.

Commenting on the grant Dr Zurek said: "I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other leading, international institutions to further our understanding of the social and environmental impacts of agriculture in the developing world.”

I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other leading, international institutions to further our understanding of the social and environmental impacts of agriculture in the developing world.”

Dr Monika Zurek, senior researcher, Environmental Change Institute

The project will bring together researchers with government, development agencies and private firms, and in this way help to inform policy-makers and the civil groups that lobby them.

Professor Seddon said, “We are delighted to have been awarded the GCRF funding and we look forward to getting started on this project. We expect the outcomes of the project to have real impact on public and private policy-making. The lessons learned will be useful for the entire sub-Saharan Africa region.”

Dr Zurek added: “I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other leading, international institutions to further our understanding of the social and environmental impacts of agriculture in the developing world.”

Partners include: International Institute of Environment and Development (lead); UCL; University of Reading; Imperial; University of Greenwich; University of Ghana; Copperbelt University; RUFORM Africa and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute.