Restoring the Atlantic Forest and resilience planning for extreme weather win 2018 Newton Prize for Brazil and Chile

The first 2018 Newton Prize winners have been announced at events in Brasilia, Brazil and Santiago, Chile. 

The winning projects take on two important development challenges: protecting the food security and culture of an entire indigenous community in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, and boosting the resilience of power systems to withstand the devastating effects of extreme weather in countries affected by natural hazards. 


The winning project for Brazil is improving the lives of the Guarani people by saving the Atlantic Forest.

The Atlantic Forest in Brazil is one of the world’s richest biomes, home to a large number of species unique to that area. It is fundamental to the physical and cultural survival of the indigenous Guarani people, and to the quality of life of more than 70 percent of the Brazilian population who depend on its water supply. Despite this, nearly 90 percent of the forest has been destroyed to make way for pastures, croplands and urban areas, severely affecting the Guarani people and threatening many species with extinction.

This Newton-funded project between researchers in the UK and Brazil is helping the Guarani restore the Atlantic Forest in their territory. By drawing from Guarani ancestral agricultural knowledge and established agroforestry techniques, and by promoting a better understanding of the importance of indigenous peoples for environmental conservation, the team are supporting the preservation and restoration of the forest and improving the wellbeing of Guarani communities.

The project has already benefited more than 3,000 Guarani people. Seed exchanges have helped rescue agrobiodiversity from collapse on Guarani territory and collective plantations have been established, helping to restore degraded land. The team has produced territorial and environmental management plans and ethnomaps representing how Guarani organise their territory, helping to establish agreements that protect the land.

Marc Brightman, Co-Director at the Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability, University College London and UK project lead, said: “The Prize will enable us to greatly expand the successful work already achieved by including more villages, further developing what is included in the indigenous knowledge and seed exchanges and by expanding the agroforestry techniques shared during the project.”

Dan Korbel, Global Head of Science, British Council, said: “We are delighted that a project under the Newton Institutional Skills programme, delivered by the British Council, has been awarded a Newton Prize.  This joint UK-Brazil project demonstrates that capacity building and encouraging cooperation can benefit and empower local communities, help to protect the environment and improve the lives of thousands of people. This is also a great example of how a community-led development can contribute to the delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Objectives.”

Delivery partners: British Council (UK) and the Indigenous Work Centre (Brazil).

Chile and beyond

The winning project for Chile* is strengthening energy infrastructure to withstand extreme weather and natural disasters.

Long electricity blackouts have a big impact on a country’s economic activities, social stability and security. Latin America’s energy infrastructure currently lacks the resilience to deal with the increasing frequency of climate-related extreme weather events and natural disasters that cause power supplies to fail.

Newton funded scientists in the UK and Chile are using new mathematical models to strengthen power systems in countries vulnerable to environmental hazards. The models will help energy providers prevent or reduce widescale electricity outages when power systems are exposed to high-impact, low-probability events. It will inform planning practices to help shape robust, cost-effective and low-carbon transmission networks.

Pierluigi Mancarella, Professor of Smart Energy Systems, University of Manchester and UK project lead, said: “The Newton Prize will enable further improvement of our advanced resilience assessment and planning tools and, importantly, facilitate their application to more developing countries which face varying threats related to extreme weather and natural hazards.”

Jane Nicholson, Associate Director at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said: “This project is great example of how engineering and physical sciences can help address real challenges. It will use mathematics to plan and design electricity grids that are more resilient to extreme weather events and the harsh environment of Chile. This joint UK-Chile research will help reduce the disruption power cuts cause and the knowledge gained will benefit other countries in the region too. The Newton Fund is making connections that bring people closer together worldwide.”

Delivery partners: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK) and the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT).

2018 Newton Prize

The Newton Prize is an annual £1 million fund developed to showcase how UK science and innovation partnerships are helping to solve global development challenges. The Newton Prize also incentivises researchers and innovators to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK to work on the most important challenges facing developing countries such as poverty, climate change and public health.

This year 140 Newton funded projects, fellowships or other awards applied for the Newton Prize. Four prizes of up to £200,000 each will be awarded to winning projects with the eligible Latin American countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

The funding allows researchers to take their Newton projects to the next level, for example by translating their project from the lab into the field, through expansion and/or improvements to their original project, by bringing in more capacity or gaining higher profile; all increasing the likelihood of success.

Sam Gyimah, the minister of state for science, research and innovation: “The annual £1m Newton Prize builds upon, celebrates and further encourages research partnerships. It’s great to see this year’s applications representing the breadth of the Newton Fund’s work from public and private sector organisations based around the world.

“The uniqueness of the Newton Fund is the partnership working between the UK and partner country at all levels from government to government, delivery partner to delivery partner through to project lead to project lead. From energy and healthcare, to agriculture and digital, the Newton Fund demonstrates how bringing researchers together has enormous potential to change lives for the better across the world.”

The Newton Prize was judged by a distinguished and independent Newton Prize committee with expertise in the development sector, the Latin American region as well as science and innovation. It was chaired by Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and Nobel Laureate. The committee reviewed the short-listed applications, along with feedback from over 400 expert peer reviewers, and chose the winners.

Further announcements

  • During November the shortlisted projects will be celebrated at award events taking place in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, where the winning project for that country will be announced. These events will be followed by a UK reception in December hosted by Sam Gyimah MP, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation to celebrate international and science innovation collaborations.


  • Chile has graduated from the DAC list of developing countries and is no longer eligible for ODA funding from 1 January 2018. Chile is included in the 2018 Newton Prize because it has been a Newton Fund country since the fund was established in 2014, and from the outset the Newton-Picarte Fund has supported excellent research collaborations that have delivered impact in Chile and more broadly. Prize money won by our two UK-Chile projects will need to address broader regional and global development challenges, in line with ODA guidance. This will build on existing Chilean and UK research strengths and relationships, to promote economic development and welfare in ODA-eligible countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Such joint work to address global challenges is part of our changing science and innovation relationship with Chile since its recent graduation.
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