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Feeding the world: improving food security

Ashraf Alkhtib, Research Fellow

When I was a schoolboy, I was fascinated by science. My father fueled this passion from a young age: he built a library for me and my family and he encouraged me to grow my own crops in our back garden. He always encouraged me to follow my interests, to ask questions, and to always keep learning.

My research journey

My research journey started in Syria, where I was born. I completed a degree in 2005 and started out teaching biology in an elementary school for a year, whilst also teaching some of my family and friends.  I then decided to join the Syrian Commission of Agricultural Research, where I worked as a research assistant for eight years. In 2008, I then studied a master’s degree in sheep nutrition, and, upon completion, I was lucky enough to be granted a scholarship by the International Centre of Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) to undertake a PhD at Damascus University - the largest and oldest university in Syria.

The Middle East is very dry with little vegetation, but pistachio trees thrive in these conditions, producing the most nuts in climates with long, dry, hot summers and low humidity. They also prevent the fertile land from turning to desert. A downside is that pistachio trees generate considerable amounts of wasteful by-product, like woody shells and blank fruit. Part of my PhD research was to find a way to utilise elements of the pistachio tree that are often put to waste. Pistachio shells contain a good amount of protein and energy, so I began researching how we can use these as sheep feed and support the maintenance of meat, milk and wool.

In 2012, the pistachio fields I was working on became battlefields. I had to leave Syria and relocate to Ethiopia with my PhD supervisor.  Now living over 2,000 miles away from home, I had to quickly rebuild my life in a new country and rethink my PhD project. I decided to investigate how farmers in hot countries can grow different varieties of pulses to create the very best and most nutritious food possible.

I graduated from The University of Jimma in 2017 and decided to apply for a position in the Poultry Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. I am now working full-time here as a Research Fellow, creating food security and improving animal welfare.

Early in my career, I visited many places where people were struggling to access food, and I knew I wanted to do something about it. I realised that quality research was desperately needed to address the current food crisis in countries where international conflict and climate change have impacted local farming and agriculture.

So today, my research focuses on creating food security around the world and improving animal welfare in farming and agriculture. My research explores how we can produce livestock with minimum economic and environmental costs, whilst improving animal welfare in the process.

  • Ashraf aims to improve food security and sustainability through his research
  • Ashraf at Brackenhurst campus
    Early in his career, Ashraf visited many places where people were struggling to access food, and he knew he wanted to do something about it
  • Ashraf with bags of animal feed
    Ashraf is improving poultry production while minimising its environmental impact and ensuring the very best animal welfare.

My research covers three main geographical areas: the Middle East, Africa (especially Ethiopia), and in the UK. Now, I am interested in improving poultry production while minimising its environmental impact and ensuring the very best animal welfare. I am also engaged in sustainable livestock production research in Africa and the Middle East.

I am proud of the fact that my research is focusing on significant global challenges. When I tell people about my research, they really appreciate what I am doing as it’s so closely related to human welfare and food security – two huge challenges that countries around the world are currently facing.

One of my proudest moments was completing my PhD, but I am also very proud of an award I received from the British Society of Animal Science in 2020 for my research around the use of olive twigs as feed for goats in dry climates. The food that goats have traditionally eaten is deteriorating in quality due to deforestation, so it is great to know that there is hope for countries that are struggling to feed their livestock.

I love research and I really enjoy developing the knowledge and skills of other researchers and students. If you love creating knowledge, rather than just consuming it, then a research career might be the perfect fit for you too.

Follow my story

My story doesn’t end here. Keep up to date with me and my research by keeping an eye on my academic profile or following me on Twitter @AlkhtibA. For anything else, please feel free to email me on

Ashraf Alkhtib

Dr Ashraf Alkhtib is a Research Fellow at NTU, working in the Poultry Research Unit at the Brackenhurst Campus. Ashraf's teaching and research focuses on animal nutrition.

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