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  • India-UK fund to boost agro-innovation in Africa and Asia

[LONDON] The Indian and UK governments are tapping into agricultural innovation outside the traditional international development community with the launch of a £20 million (US$32 million) programme for food security (11 January).

Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) will allow scientists to research stressors, ranging from pests to climate change, on five key crops — cassava, maize, rice, sorghum and wheat — with a view to boosting sustainable crop yields.

Brian Harris, head of the agriculture and food sector of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is managing the programme, told SciDev.Net that the initiative builds on earlier partnerships with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to "bring new people into the international development field" by encouraging UK scientists to solve practical agricultural problems in developing countries.

The new partnership is bigger than previous ones because it includes the Indian government and the US-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

DFID is supporting the initiative on the basis that innovation in research can come from individual and small-group efforts, as well as larger programmes such as those carried out by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

The two approaches complement each other, the department believes, and the new programme has many of the features known to be important for the successful use of research for development outcomes, says DFID, such as matching Northern with Southern institutions and facilitating a country such as India in collaborating with Sub-Saharan Africa and other countries in South Asia.

Katherine Kahn, senior programme officer for global development, agricultural development, and science and technology at the Gates Foundation, said that the programme will also encourage scientists in developing countries to lead research projects.

Within the project, one tenth of the funding will go towards Projects for Emerging Research Leaders: developing country scientists doing four-year research programmes in their home country.

"We wanted to encourage those scientists who have really fantastic ideas but are still fairly early-career to submit proposals and get the support that they need," she said.

The Indian government and the Gates Foundation will each contribute US$7.9 million, DFID will provide US$11 million, and the BBSRC US$4.7 million.

The deadline for the first round of proposals is end of March, and it is hoped that research will begin in spring 2012.