This is an exciting opportunity providing nine fully-funded PhD studentships covering a wide range of topics vital for building capacity in African agricultural research.

  • 04
  • APR
  • 2019

Each of the studentships will be part of a larger multidisciplinary collaborative research project. In addition to comprehensive training in research techniques, the successful candidates will gain transferable skills in communication, data analysis and team working, equipping them for a multitude of potential roles in the continuing development of African agricultural systems. 

The PhD candidates will register in the UK at Cranfield University , a research-intensive, postgraduate-only institution specialising in strategic and applied research in science, technology and management, recently awarded the prestigious Queens Anniversary Prize (2017) for soil science.

The students will also carry out research projects in collaboration at Rothamsted Research (25 miles from Cranfield University), the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world, with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soil management; and in Morocco at The Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, a hub of education, research, innovation and entrepreneurship, aspiring to become a solid bridge of knowledge between Morocco, Africa and the world. 

The Research students will benefit from being part of the Agricultural Innovation for Morocco Centre for Doctoral Training (AIM-CDT) which will educate a future generation of high calibre agricultural scientists to PhD level.

Students will develop academic, technical and entrepreneurial skills allowing them to take up leadership roles in an academic or industrial setting to drive forward agricultural research and innovation. This will be achieved through a balance of academic excellence, laboratory and field experience, and strong industrial interconnectivity throughout the students’ training.

The AIM-CDT students will be registered at Cranfield University, and supervised by staff from the consortium of Cranfield University (CU), Rothamsted Research (RRes), and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), supported by OCP Group. Further details about the partnership


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Exploitation of beneficial root-associated bacteria in cereal-based cropping systems in Morocco

The plant microbiome, the full complement of microbes associated with a given plant host, holds promise in contributing to sustainable crop production. The project will assess the plant microbiome constituents of Moroccan field-grown wheat and maize, and seeks to demonstrate proof-of-concept for the use of microbiome to boost crop production. 

New soil and plant diagnostics tools for better fertilizer recommendations

This PhD project will work alongside the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) whose mission is to ensure that Africa’s soil and landscape resources are described, understood and used effectively. The student will work with AfSIS to establish detailed crop and soil information for Sub-Saharan Africa, and develop a range of methods and tools to map and characterize soils economically and quickly.

Technical and practical innovations to reduce soil and water losses by improving soil physical properties

The proposed project investigates how different crops affect soil physical properties. The project will allow the student to study how root activity affects aspects of soil structure and will identify ways to improve soil physical structure to mitigate soil and water losses in Moroccan agricultural systems.

Image analysis for plant phenotyping–machine learning based methods for analysis of multi-model and multi-dimensional remote sensing data from high-throughput plant phenotyping

Within this project, the student will use advanced sensor and image analysis technologies, including hand-held, drone-based and satellite imagery, to identify different nutrient stresses and estimate required rates of fertilization to maximise economic return. The student will use the data collected to identify and quantify the deficiencies and to provide recommendations on suitable remedial action.

Phenotyping the nutritional status of crops using remote sensing technologies

Multi-sensor phenotyping platforms such as the robotic automated phenotyping platforms in the field at Rothamsted and within a glasshouse at Cranfield, enable the non-destructive monitoring of canopy development, function and health with unprecedented detail. The aim of this project is to develop image analysis methods for the efficient analysis of phenotyping data that will rapidly deliver improved understanding of fertilizer use efficiency and crop responses to fertilizer inputs.

Agricultural bioproducts from medicinal and aromatic plants

The study, which will involve training in natural products chemistry and biology, will concern the identification and isolation of bioactive compounds from a range of plants adapted to arid zones, targeting natural biostimulants/bioprotectants for downstream use in agriculture. The focus will be on identifying biostimulants from a panel of African grown medicinal plants, and determining their potential for use in agriculture as growth stimulants, primers and stress protectants.

Dynamic Landscapes: agent based modelling of crop management

The growing demand for food cannot be met by simply using more land, as this would have serious impacts on the environment and the climate. In this project the student will build an agent-based model of farmer decision making and link this to a model of agricultural impacts in a landscape to explore what factors are most important in delivering sustainable agricultural production.

Novel fertilizer formulations for enhanced N use efficiency

The impacts of excess reactive nitrogen from fertilisers have environmental implications worldwide. This project aims to explore the effectiveness of enhanced-efficiency nitrogen fertilisers and the interaction between nitrogen delivery and the capacity for plant uptake in conditions typical of Mediterranean and tropical climates, where nitrogen turnover is rapid.

Novel fertilizer formulations exploiting crop genotype differences in P uptake efficiency

Phosphate use efficiency depends on both internal and external plant mechanisms. We propose to study the processes involving P dynamics under controlled-environment conditions, and to develop mathematical models to extrapolate the findings to other soils, plants and growth conditions; we will use upland rice as the model plant for this work.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.