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Food & nutrition research for health in the developing world: bioavailability & nutrient content

Copyright: wildpixel/iStock/Thinkstock

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 2 July 2018 - 11 September 2018


BBSRC is pleased to announce a total of £6.9 million to support a number of interdisciplinary, collaborative research proposals to address the challenges spanning the agriculture-nutrition-health interfaces relating to food and nutrition research for health in the developing world.

The purpose of this call is to advance interdisciplinary research across the agriculture - food - nutrition - health pathway to sustainably deliver more nutritious foods to improve physical and cognitive health across the lifecourse in developing countries. It aims to enhance the nutritional content and bioavailability of nutrients in a diverse range of culturally appropriate foods; and determine the impact on human health outcomes.

Proposals must be led by UK researchers normally eligible for BBSRC funding, and partnerships with eligible Co-Investigators based in any of the DAC countries listed in the downloads section are strongly recommended.

The call is funded from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). As well as being scientifically excellent, research supported under it must meet the criteria for classification of expenditure as Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Funds can be requested for up to two years and projects must start on 1 April 2019.


To provide an opportunity to learn more about this call and ask questions, we hosted a webinar on 11 July 2018. The webinar was for UK PI’s who will lead a proposal, and their supporting research office staff.

The aim of this webinar was to assist lead applicants in addressing BBSRC’s expectations of this call. See: Adobe Connect: Webinar GCRF FNH Call July V2.


GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. Alongside the other GCRF delivery partners we are creating complementary programmes that:

  • promote challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, including the participation of researchers who may not previously have considered the applicability of their work to development issues
  • strengthen capacity for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in the UK and developing countries through partnership with excellent UK research and researchers
  • provide an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.

GCRF is part of the government’s commitment to allocate 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance for promoting the welfare and economic development of developing countries. As well as being scientifically excellent, research supported by GCRF must meet the criteria for classification of expenditure as ODA. For further information see: UK Research and Innovation: Global Challenges Research Fund.

Purpose and aims

Access to a sustainable and nutritious diet is vital for good health and longevity. Poor diet is the number one risk factor in the global burden of disease and results in economic deficit (ref 1). Despite some significant improvements to global nutrition over recent decades, the burden of malnutrition remains high and continues to be a worldwide problem, with at least one in three people experiencing malnutrition in some form (ref 2).

Recent reports indicate that both the World Health Assembly global nutrition targets and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved unless there is a step change in our response to malnutrition in all its forms (ref 3). It is apparent that an accelerated pace of research is required to improve the nutritional quality of food; provide robust scientific evidence of health benefits in humans; and inform effective intervention and policy.

Each developing country will have its own challenges in relation to malnutrition and finding effective solutions will involve starting with the population of concern and the diet quality gap they face, examining what food systems they are served by and then working back into the food system to find the most effective, aligned solutions. No single intervention will reduce malnutrition and the associated poor health outcomes, and thus, it requires coordinated efforts across the food system.

This call seeks to support interdisciplinary collaborative research spanning the agriculture-nutrition-health interfaces that combines the expertise of scientists in the UK with the knowledge of research partners in the participating country. The inclusion of resident researchers as Co-Is is strongly recommended to enable better project co-design and form truly integrated partnerships with clear and complementary roles, and equitable divisions of responsibilities and resources, as well as fostering applicability of results where relevant. The engagement of potential stakeholders and users, such as farmers, policymakers and health agencies in project design and delivery is also encouraged to enable the proposed research to have sustainable impact by delivering nutritional strategies appropriate for potential users of its outcomes, and strengthening capacity for the longer term.

The purpose of this programme is to inform the development of new strategies to address the challenges in food, nutrition and health by supporting collaborative research that brings together the complementary capabilities of scientists in the UK and partners in developing countries. It aims to:

  • generate health benefits by investing in interdisciplinary research across the agriculture - food - nutrition - health pathway to sustainably and cost-effectively deliver more nutritious foods to improve physical and cognitive health across the lifecourse in developing countries
  • improve the nutritional content and bioavailability of nutrients in a diverse range of foods to meet nutritional requirements and address malnutrition/ key nutrient deficiencies in the developing world


In July 2017, BBSRC, in collaboration with the Department for International Development (DFID), ESRC, MRC and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), led a small delegation of UK academics to participate in a GCRF nutrition networking event that linked in with the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The purpose of the event was to bring together UK and developing country researchers/ stakeholders to advance understanding of the complex relationships between agriculture, food, nutrition and health, identify research challenges, and associated scientific and partnering opportunities, informed by resident researchers with understanding of the systems in the developing world. This programme is taking forward some of the research opportunities identified from that event.

Agriculture and food are intrinsically linked to nutrition and health and this call provides an opportunity for a more collaborative approach across research disciplines to better understand nutrition-related health challenges in developing countries; to support the development of appropriate nutritious and safe food sources to address them; to foster healthy food choice and consumption behaviours; to determine their impact on human health outcomes and provide evidence to inform future intervention and policy.

The scope of this call includes collaborative research on a diverse range of foods such as staple crops, fruits and vegetables and animal-sourced foods (for example eggs, milk, fish, insects) for human consumption and health benefits. It also includes, for example, crops grown for farmed animal feeds to improve the nutritional content of animal-sourced foods.

Proposals must focus on issues primarily relevant to developing countries and be designed to improve the health of the populations it intends to serve. There are multiple areas of opportunity and proposals should aim to address one or more of the following illustrative questions:

  • What constitutes a healthy diet and how does it vary at different stages across the lifecourse, across different groups, within populations and in different regions of the world?
  • What culturally appropriate foods should be produced and consumed to improve health in developing countries?
  • How do we diversify the food produced to provide nutritious food that people want to eat, and what impact does this have on health outcomes?
  • How can we modify/manage food/food systems so that they sustainably provide nutritious food to improve human health?
  • How do changing farming practices affect nutrient content in crops and farmed animals and their implications for human nutrition and health?
  • What factors influence the nutrient content and bioavailability of macro- and micro-nutrients in food, and their uptake/absorption to impact on human health?
  • How can we improve methods, standards or technologies to measure dietary intake, energy expenditure, nutritional status and health outcomes, particularly for use in developing countries settings?
  • How can we demonstrate a clear link between biofortification/fortification and health benefits?

Approaches to tackle these questions could include the following areas:

  • physical and chemical interactions in foods and the underlying biological mechanisms of bioavailability, nutrient uptake and metabolism, for example diet, nutrition and health, general health status, systemic infection, inflammation; gut health and function, gut microbiome, early microbial colonisation and pathogenic organisms in the gut
  • lifestyle, food environments, and food related behaviours
  • dietary diversity, alternative food sources
  • food fortification and reformulation
  • biofortification, genomic selection in crops/farmed animals, phenotyping
  • informative indicators, e.g. biomarkers, nutrigenomics, nutri-epigenetics
  • new rapid and accurate diagnostics; high throughput and affordable smart technologies for analysis to measure nutrient stability, dietary intake and nutritional status, particularly suitable for use in developing countries settings
  • an appreciation of individual, population, and ethnic/cultural variations in dietary nutrient requirements
  • food systems: urban/rural, seasonality, postharvest biology, nutrient stability, storage technology
  • altering animal feed to improve farmed animal gut microbiome and health directed towards enhancing human nutrition and health
  • nutrition/food/nutrient intervention efficacy and safety, for example mechanisms of delivery, preventing adverse effects.

Proposed research must be predominantly within BBSRC's remit, and include a substantial element of investigative bioscience. However, potential application of the research must also take account of its broader social and cultural (particularly gender), economic and environmental contexts, and some aspects of proposals under this call may appropriately span interfaces with the remits of other UKRI councils.

The following research areas are outside the scope of the call:

  • Primary food production relating to increasing productivity - both crop and animal (precision agriculture, pest/disease resistance)
  • Nutrition solely directed at improving animal health
  • Food safety - contamination of food by pathogens, toxins or other harmful substances at any stage of the food-chain
  • Research directed at human pathology and disease, for example cancer, diabetes. Research solely focussed on obesity is also excluded, but is included when considering it in the context of the ‘double burden’ of malnutrition
  • Epidemiological research and the establishment of new cohorts.

Official Development Assistance

All research funded through this call will form part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance, as defined by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  Guidance on the definition and its interpretation is provided in the OECD ‘What is ODA? (PDF)’ fact sheet and the UKRI website: Official Development Assistance: Global Challenges Research Fund Guidance (PDF).

The ODA relevance of the planned research should be clearly evident throughout the proposal. Additional information on this can be found in the Guidance for Applicants. Please note: owing to the small number of proposals that will be supported through the call we strongly encourage applicants to consider the ODA relevance of their research, in particular the strength of developing country partnerships and how the project will work to alleviate poverty and promote welfare. Proposals which are not considered to be ODA compliant will be rejected without peer review.

Project scale and duration

Up to £6.9 million is available, subject to the quality of proposals received. Total requested costs should not exceed £2 million (at 100% of their full economic cost; see eligible costs section in the guidance for applicants).

Information about the funding that may be requested is provided in the Guidance for Applicants, along with instructions on how costs should be entered in the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system and, for DAC listed countries, the additional Overseas Resource Requests spreadsheet. It is essential that applicants refer to the Guidance for Applicants to ensure that the correct documentation and information is submitted.

Funds can be requested for up to two years. Projects must start on 1 April 2019 and are expected to be completed by 31 March 2021.


Applications will be rejected before peer review for proposals which:

  • are not predominantly within BBSRC’s remit
  • are outside the scope of the call
  • are narrow in focus and do not span the agriculture-nutrition-health interfaces
  • are not considered to be ODA compliant
  • request funding for ineligible individuals, organisations or costs (for example studentships/equipment)
  • have not entered their costs correctly as per the Guidance for Applicants.


The call is open to individuals and organisations normally eligible to apply to the UK research councils for research grants, see: UK Research and Innovation: Eligibility for funding.

Applications must be led by an eligible PI in the UK.

As well as UK researchers normally eligible for BBSRC funding, applications may include (for this call only) eligible Co-Investigators based in any of the DAC countries listed in the downloads section. Full details of eligibility for this call are provided in the Guidance for Applicants. BBSRC strongly recommends that there should be an integrated partnership of UK academics with researchers from DAC listed countries that is integral to the application.

How to apply

This call is closed to applications

Applications must be submitted via the Je-S system by 16:00 BST on 11 September 2018.

A single application should be submitted by the research organisation of the UK PI on behalf of all participating organisations.

All applicants named on the Je-S form must be registered as users of the system well before the application is submitted. Please note that the Je-S registration process for overseas Co-Investigators could take up to three weeks and thus applicants are advised to register as early as possible. Guidance on how to create an account is in the Je-S Helpdesk. Applications cannot be processed if this has not been done.

Full details of the submission process and documentation required are provided in the Guidance for Applicants. It is essential that applicants refer to the Guidance for Applicants to ensure that the correct documentation and information is submitted.

Potential applicants for this BBSRC call might be interested to note that a call for mechanistic research into non-communicable diseases related to nutrition, diet and lifestyle in Low and Middle Income Countries is being planned by MRC and further news of its launch will be available shortly.


Call opens 2 July 2018
Webinar 11 July 2018
Application deadline 11 September 2018, 16:00 BST
Funding decisions January/ February 2019
Projects to start 1 April 2019


  1. Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition: Foresight report
  2. Global Nutrition Report: 2017 report
  3. UNICEF / WHO / World Bank Group Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates, May 2017 (PDF)

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Related calls: agriculture collaboration crops food GCRF multidisciplinary nutrition partnerships