Aberystwyth University’s world-renowned plant research has been boosted by a prestigious European Union-funded research fellowship.

The esteemed award has been given to Dr Jaykumar Patel, whose work will explore how to make the cereal pearl millet more resistant to drought.

Pearl millet is a cereal crop that is a staple in many African countries, as well as in India and South Asia.

Traditionally used for making porridge, kedgeree and flat breads like chapattis, it is increasingly used for making other kinds of bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals.

The new research at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences will examine the crop’s key genes and aims to use cutting-edge technology to improve yield, resilience to drought and its nutritional contents.

Dr Patel has a doctorate in plant molecular biology, for which he studied for a period at Aberystwyth University. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

He said: “I’m delighted to be returning to Aberystwyth to contribute to this vital research. Strengthening pearl millet’s drought-resistance and nutritional content is vital as we face the challenges of a growing population, more diet related illnesses, and climate change.

“With the world’s population projected to approach nine billion by 2050, food output needs to double to meet people’s needs. This at a time when there are already 768 million undernourished people in the world – the vast majority of whom are in Asia and Africa. As we speak, more than 529 million people are suffering from Type-2 diabetes.

“This research not only has the potential to revolutionise pearl millet breeding but also to make significant strides towards sustainable agriculture, climate change mitigation, and reducing the global burden of Type-2 diabetes, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our project aims to create antioxidants and other nutrient-rich, drought-resilient pearl millet varieties; contributing to better food security and economic development in vulnerable regions of the world.”

IBERS’ Professor Rattan Yadav, who will be supervising the research, added: “Pearl millet is a crop that already feeds people in places with some of the most marginal agricultural land in the world.”