British scientists have won a £6.4 million grant to develop GM crops - one of the largest single investments into genetic modification in the UK.
The money, awarded by the Gates Foundation, will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser.
It is hoped the work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich will benefit struggling maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who cannot afford to treat their crops.
Plant scientists at the independent unit are trying to engineer cereal crops capable of taking nitrogen from the air - as peas and beans do - rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.
Giles Oldroyd, from the John Innes Centre, told the BBC the project was vital for poorer African farmers and would have a huge impact on global agriculture.