11 January 2011 | By William Surman
A TWENTY million pound fund has been offered to the world’s top plant scientists to improve food security and increase sustainable crop yields in the developing world within the next 5-10 years.
Research teams have been invited to step forward if they can show an ability to increase the disease-resistance and drought tolerance of staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The fund is made up of contributions from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Indian Department of Biotechnology.
Stephen O’Brien, Minister for DFID which will contribute up to £7 million to the project, said the research would help reduce the unpredictability of growing certain crops to give communities a better standard of living.
“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,” he said.
UN figures show over one billion people are undernourished globally and with a rapidly rising population food security issues will continue to rock the world.
Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive of the BBSRC which has contributed £3 million to the overall fund, said each project would include partners from the UK and a developing nation.
“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,” he said.
Researchers are invited to submit proposals for the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development Initiative by 31 March 2011