Major international research initiative launched to improve food security for developing countries

11th Jan 2011

In a unique and important move to harness science to improve food security for millions of people in the developing world, research funders from the UK and USA and government departments in the UK and India have today (11 January) announced a new £20M/$32M joint research initiative.

The new initiative will fund teams from the UK, India and developing countries to work on research projects to improve the sustainability of vital food crops. The research will particularly investigate ways to improve the disease-resistance and stress-tolerance of staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Funding will be awarded to teams that can show that their research can improve food security and increase sustainable crop yields within the next 5-10 years.

Over one billion people globally are already undernourished and food security is a major issue with the world's population forecast to reach nine billion by 2050. Environmental change, new trading patterns and urbanisation are all expected to increase pressures on food security in coming years.

The new initiative is being managed by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The £20M fund is made up of contributions from BBSRC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC), the UK Department for International Development and the Indian Department of Biotechnology.

David Willetts, UK Minister for Universities and Science, who recently signed a letter of intent with the Indian government said: "Global food security is one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century and I am delighted that the UK is leading the way with this important initiative.

"This global collaboration will benefit millions of people leading to improved food production in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and increasing the body of knowledge on food security worldwide."

Stephen O'Brien, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development said: "Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are dependent on staple crops such as maize and rice both as a source of food and income. If disease or difficult growing conditions limit their harvest then the consequences can be devastating, with families unable to afford medical care or school fees, and children at real risk of becoming malnourished.

"Reducing the unpredictability of growing crops helps to ensure that the poorest countries are able to feed their people, cope with sudden global food price changes, and ultimately boost economic growth."

"We are pleased to join with the UK and Indian governments in their commitment to global food security," said Sam Dryden, director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "This joint program is an opportunity for high-impact research partnerships to flourish among scientists in the developing and developed worlds. The end result will be new pathways out of poverty for the millions of smallholder farming families who depend on agriculture to support and feed their families."

The new initiative will place particular emphasis on improving the sustainable production of staple food crops across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. These include cassava, maize, rice, sorghum and wheat. By placing significant emphasis on these crops the initiative partners expect to be able to improve food security and quality of life for the largest possible number of people.

The initiative also aims to maximise the impact of the research funded by supporting a more comprehensive approach to improving productivity and yield, for example by tackling crop resistance to drought or flood. By funding international researchers tackling problems across different countries and regions promising research from one country can easily be shared and tested more widely in different regions and conditions to provide the widest possible benefit.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "Global society faces huge challenges in the coming years and securing safe, affordable and nutritious food for everyone is one of the biggest. Scientists and organisations across the world have the capabilities and expertise to make a real difference in meeting the global food security challenge but no single organisation or country can do this on its own. By working together and by coordinating our activity we can maximise the impact of our investment and of international science. The joint programme that we are announcing today is a groundbreaking example of how we can do so."

Each project funded under the initiative will include partners from the UK and a developing nation. This approach, used by BBSRC and DFID in previous programmes, aims to build scientific capacity in developing countries, with the aim of developing research teams and projects that tackle other local scientific challenges.

BBSRC and DFID are both partners in the UK's Global Food Security programme which brings together the food-related research interests of Research Councils, Government Departments and Executive Agencies.

Researchers are being invited to submit proposals for the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development Initiative. The closing date for applications is 31 March 2011. For more information please see


Notes to editors

For background information about global food security and the food security challenge please see:

The Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development programme is a joint multi-national initiative of the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Department for International Development (DFID), together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC) in the USA, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of India's Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The purpose of the programme is to support high-quality basic and strategic biological and biotechnological research to improve the production of major food crops in developing countries.

BBSRC and DFID have a strong track record of funding bioscience research for international agricultural development. Together, BBSRC and DFID have invested £20M in two previous initiatives targeting sustainable agricultural research and infectious diseases of livestock for international development.

Global Food Security is the UK's research partnership that brings together the food-related research interests of Research Councils, Government Departments and Executive Agencies. Global Food Security was launched in March 2010. For more information visit:



BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

* The Babraham Institute

* Institute for Animal Health

* Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)

* Institute of Food Research

* John Innes Centre

* The Genome Analysis Centre

* The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)

* Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.


About the Department for International Development

The Department for International Development (DFID) is the UK's Government department responsible for promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty. The central focus of DFID is a commitment to achieve the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals by 2015.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people-especially those with the fewest resources-have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

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