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Developing country researchers will have access to new US funds through an initiative launched in the United States yesterday (7 July).

US researchers working in developing countries receive around US$100 million a year in grants from the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

But so far, their developing world collaborators have not been able to apply for any of these funds, creating an asymmetry in relationships, according to Alex Dehgan, science and technology advisor to the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

"What you want is … [for developing world scientists] to have their own sources of support so you're truly building a partnership, what Obama called for in Cairo," Dehgan told SciDev.Net, referring to the American president's famous speech in 2009.

Now, USAID has partnered with the NSF to provide grants to developing world partners of NSF US grantees.

The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) initiative will support applied research — science in support of development — in areas of global concern such as climate change, biodiversity, water issues, agriculture, seismic hazards and deforestation.

"It really brings together the best that America has to offer — our science and technology capacity and particularly the peer-review process that NSF uses — with developing country counterparts to finally be able to fund their research, their students, their laboratories."

Most of the funds will be available in any developing country where USAID works. Additionally there will be some funds specific to Indonesia and Lebanon, and potential specific funds for the Islamic world, supported through Obama's Global Engagement Through Partnerships project.

Applications from developing world researchers — who must already be collaborating with US scientists on NSF-funded projects and who will become principal investigators on new projects — will be evaluated on two criteria: scientific merits and development impact.

Pilot projects in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania are already underway.

Dehgan said the funds may motivate new partnerships, as they will not be restricted to existing collaborations.

USAID is making available US$8.3 million for developing country scientist-led projects, but the figure may increase if there is great demand, said Dehgan.

Michael Greene, a scholar at the Policy and Global Affairs division of the US National Academies of Science, said the initiative could benefit all parties.

"A less obvious benefit will be exposing the local scientific community to world-class peer review," Greene said. "The best researchers will like it and want it for nationally funded projects as well, and the governments may also see the benefit of encouraging more productive projects … I hope that some training in proposal writing is available to prospective applicants."