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 United Kingdom and United States, and government departments in the U.K. and India have announced a new $32M joint research initiative.

The new initiative will fund teams from the U.K., 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 urbanization are all expected to increase pressures on food security in coming years.

The new initiative is being managed by the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The $32M fund is made up of contributions from BBSRC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC), the U.K. Department for International Development and the Indian Department of Biotechnology.

"We are pleased to join with the U.K. 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 maximize 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 organizations across the world have the capabilities and expertise to make a real difference in meeting the global food security challenge but no single organization or country can do this on its own. By working together and by coordinating our activity we can maximize the impact of our investment and of international science. The joint program 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 U.K. and a developing nation. This approach, used by BBSRC and DFID in previous programs, 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 U.K.'s Global Food Security program 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 www.bbsrc.ac.uk/scprid.