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The Agropolis Foundation, an important international player in the agricultural research sector, received a US$35 million grant from the French government last month (13 May).

The foundation is based in Montpellier, France, which is widely regarded as one of the world's most important agricultural research centres and home to a number of key agricultural institutions. It has also been chosen to host the headquarters of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Anne-Lucie Wack, director of the Agropolis Fondation, told SciDev.Net the grant will go towards a ten-year programme that will incorporate a range of disciplines, such as biological and social sciences, and engineering, into the foundation's research.

Wack said the foundation is particularly interested in how mathematics can be used in agriculture. The way to do it, she said, is to bring together scientists from the agriculture, mathematics and computing sectors and ask them to come up with new ways of solving problems, such as conservation of plants.

Since its inception four years ago, the foundation has been supporting more than 170 research fellows from around 30 countries, with more than a third of these coming from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

"We don't transfer technology but knowledge; and the way we do this is by building human capital so they [the visiting scientists] can go back to their countries and use their knowledge there," said Oliver Oliveros, a senior officer at the foundation.

Liz Wilson, deputy investigator at the Agriculture for Impact programme at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, said that Montpellier is a global centre for agricultural research, where the foundation can "reach out for a really strong network of experts to make assessments about what the key problems are [in agriculture]" — and this is what gives it a major advantage.

"We are delighted that the Agropolis Foundation got these resources," said Wilson. "They are getting the capacity for research but are also making sure that the research can be useful and really benefit the people [who need it the most]."

As a result of its recent partnership with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Programme — which pairs aspiring women researchers in the developing world with senior scientists — the foundation hosted a workshop last week (8–9 June) at its headquarters to discuss the results of a feasibility study for the expansion of AWARD into Francophone countries in Africa.

See below for an AWARD video about the AWARD programme: