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Joint BBSRC-NERC GCRF Research Translation Call Sustainable Enhancement of Agriculture and Aquaculture Production

Call status: Closed

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BBSRC and NERC invite applications for projects of up to 22 months in duration to translate existing research into practical application for the purpose of addressing current food security development and environmental challenges related to sustainable enhancement of food production. Projects must work with a country on the Development Assistance Committee list of Official Development Assistance recipients from within in the Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia or South-eastern Asia regions.

This joint BBSRC-NERC translation call aims to increase and accelerate the uptake and impact of BBSRC and/or NERC funded research into practical application. The call will support multidisciplinary translation projects focussed on a crop, livestock or aquaculture food production system, which are balanced across the remit of both BBSRC and NERC, and which seek to translate existing research in order to address global food production sustainability, and food security, challenges.

Projects should be impact-focussed, translating excellent research into measurable real-world outcomes to raise economic and/or societal prosperity in a DAC listed country in the Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia or Southern Asia regions as their primary objective. Projects must work in collaboration with in-country users, who should be fully engaged in the conception and design of the project at the earliest possible stage, to ensure that the outcomes of the project have appropriate uptake and impact, and that benefits arising from the project are sustainable beyond the lifetime of the project. Project outcomes should be realised as tangible and demonstrable economic and/or welfare benefits to the in-country user(s) with the potential for scalable impacts at the local, national and/or international level.

Please note: In this call we are using the term “sustainable” throughout to mean ensuring that both food production (ie: yields), and also the environments and wider ecosystems (ie: biodiversity, soil health, water quality etc) on which food systems depends, are maintained or enhanced in the long term. This fits against the 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development definition of sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".



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To meet the needs of a growing global population which is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, compounded by the climate-related risks to food security of the projected 1.5ºC global warming, solutions are required to sustainably increase global crop, livestock and aquaculture production productivity, whilst preventing degradation or capacity for adaptation of the land and wider environment which supports those production systems.

Global population expansion will be driven predominantly by growth in South Asia and Africa. The scale of these increases are striking, with conservative estimates projecting that the population of Africa will reach 1.68 billion by 2030, 42 per cent larger than in 2015, meanwhile, by 2030 Asia will be home to nearly 5 billion people. Africa and Asia are both particularly vulnerable regions to food insecurity. Africa remains the continent with the highest prevalence globally of undernourishment, affecting almost 21% of the population (more than 256 million people, and almost double the global average) in 2017. Southern Asia also has a population with almost 15% undernourished in 2017, and decreases in undernourishment in both Southern Asia and South-Eastern Asia appear to have plateaued.

Meanwhile, climate change is projected to increase the pressure on already encumbered food systems within Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Here, food production is the primary livelihood for tens of millions of people for whom climate change is expected to have the greatest adverse impact. In these regions, workers and producers are predominantly small-holder farmers with limited access to modern methods for sustainable food production, capital, markets and supply chains. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia remains the lowest in the world, where value added per worker is typically less than $1000 compared to $70,000 per worker in some developed countries. Aquaculture, on the other hand, continues to grow faster than other major food production sectors, and Africa (which has an aquaculture industry primarily focused on inland finfish aquaculture) has seen the highest regional annual growth rates in aquaculture, with an average of over 10% annual growth between 2001 and 2016. Supporting solutions to ensure that this continued growth does not bring negative environmental consequences to the ecosystems which support it is crucial.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out the challenge: to achieve zero hunger (SDG 2) by 2030 we will need to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, whilst ensuring that the sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices that are implemented help maintain ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters. Climate change mitigation in food production involves shifting to sustainable practices that increase food production in ways that are that are less ‘GHG intensive’ and protect the health of ecosystems and the natural environment. Providing food security for people in vulnerable regions will also require protecting food systems against biotic and abiotic threats which have deleterious impacts on productivity and yields.

With the majority of the population of sub-Saharan Africa employed or working in Agriculture and 96 per cent of aquaculture activity worldwide estimated to take place in Asia, the opportunity to facilitate sustainable production practices in these regions has the potential to both address the nutritional demands of a bourgeoning global population and ensure secure and prosperous livelihoods for millions of people. In countries with large proportions of small family farms, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, promoting innovation in agriculture and aquaculture is essential for ensuring productive and sustainable growth. This requires ensuring that capabilities and knowhow for sustainable food production are accessible, beneficial and appropriate for users. This call is therefore designed to provide opportunities for the translation of existing research in collaboration with users for the adoption and adaptation of sustainable farming practices.

This call is funded in part from the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), and projects will be required to meet GCRF requirements, including ODA and Gender Equality compliance.

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Building on Existing Research Excellence

Projects funded through this Call will provide an opportunity for past and current grant-holders to build on existing BBSRC and/or NERC grant funding, and will enable research outputs to be further developed into practical application to deliver social and economic benefit and impact in developing countries. All projects must draw substantially on previous research funding by BBSRC/NERC and fall within the scope of the call.

Projects are welcomed to build on underpinning BBSRC/NERC-funded projects which are UK-focussed, or focussed on food production in a country not within the list of countries eligible for this call. However the proposal submitted to this call must build on that work in the context of delivering impact in a DAC listed country in the Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia or Southern Asia regions.

We would strongly encourage applications which seek to build upon existing collaborations with in-country partners, as this call does not involve a networking phase to facilitate new collaborations, and strength of user engagement forms part of the assessment criteria of the call.

Scientific Scope

This call will welcome applications addressing current food security development and environmental challenges related to food production (including arable and livestock agriculture, as well as aquaculture) in the listed LMICs (Table 1).

In addressing development challenges, proposals should demonstrate that the project is based upon a sound understanding of the social and political context in which the project will be delivered. Applicants must demonstrate the project is directly and primarily relevant to the specific development challenges of the beneficiary country. This will be important for ensuring that the project is compliant with the Gender Equality and Official Development Assistance  compliance requirements of this call.

Agriculture of crops and livestock grown for food production, and aquaculture of finfish, shellfish and algae for food production, are within scope for this call. Forestry, wild capture fisheries, and agriculture or aquaculture for purposes other than human consumption, are not within the scope of this call.

Proposals will need to build upon existing research and align with one or more of the following challenge areas of the call:

  1. Demonstrable movement of crop, aquaculture and livestock production systems to sustainable processes, including sustainable land use and resource management.

This challenge focusses on managing production systems more sustainably with lower environmental footprints; understanding and mitigating negative environmental consequences (eg: reduced biodiversity, habitat loss or degradation, pollution of water courses, or impacts on pollination) of enhancing production, and providing tools to balance productivity growth with improved environmental outcomes.

Central to this challenge is sustainably increasing the productivity of food production systems while limiting the impact on the environment, or the need to expand the area of agricultural land or aquaculture facilities through increasing output per animal, unit of land, kilogram of fertiliser or litre of water. This might be through introduction of more productive crop varieties, smarter, more productive farming practices, better crop or animal health, quality of feed or breeding strategies, or the introduction of new technologies. 

  1. Using natural capital approaches to manage the agriculture or aquaculture production system and its wider environment.

This challenge area focuses on facilitating more productive food systems without compromising the wider ecosystems services that these landscapes can provide; understanding the relationship between food systems and ecosystems services; how food production can enhance and impact on natural capital; providing multiple services from ecosystems; integrating growers with other users of environments.

This challenge is centred on linking productivity gains with the protection of natural ecosystems to minimise the environmental consequences of e.g. land use pressure from food production intensification, land and aquaculture expansion, agricultural land shifting and land use change. It recognises the contributions of ecosystems to human well-being and how these are linked directly or indirectly to the survival or quality of life of local communities and beyond. 

  1. Strengthening resilience to abiotic and biotic stresses in agricultural and aquaculture systems, such as those resulting from climate change and climate variability

This challenge incorporates both the abiotic (eg: drought, heat, salinity, nutrient deficiency, soil health) and biotic (eg: pests, fungal and viral diseases, algal blooms) stresses which affect crop, livestock and aquaculture production; exploring how production systems interact and are impacted by these wider environmental factors.

Central to this challenge will be the introduction of interventions to mitigate against the effects of biotic and/or abiotic threats to maintain and/or restore ecosystems services such as biodiversity e.g. through use of farming practices and crop varieties which can adapt to local or future conditions, improved predictive capability to assess biotic or abiotic threats, wider mitigation processes such as new crop or management systems and changing the behavioural responses of users within the food production system.

Challenge led and impact focussed

Projects funded through this Call must seek to raise economic and/or societal prosperity in developing countries as their primary objective. This is in accordance with the overall objective of SDG 1; No Poverty, which seeks to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Progress towards SDG 1 will be achieved through the delivery of projects which address a combination of the following SDGs: SDG 2; Zero Hunger, SDG 12; Responsible consumption and production, SDG 13; Climate action, SDG 14; Life below water, SDG 15; Life on land. It is also intended that projects funded through this Call will take a pro-active approach in addressing SDG 5; Gender Equality.

To ensure that projects funded through this Call progress towards relevant and meaningful benefit and impact for people within developing countries, applicants must address one or more of the following challenges in collaboration with in-country users:

  • Increase the productivity and incomes of small-scale producers and Increase access to sustainable sources of food
  • Support and empower local farmers and communities to be able to make better and more sustainable decisions about land management and food production practices
  • Increase health and stability within local, regional and national economies through strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to threats to food security

We invite proposals seeking to address the above challenges through the development of new tools, technologies, products, services and business practices/ways of working, including the use of data, modelling or predictive capability.

The route to application will differ depending upon the individual aims of the project; this could include informing know-how and practices, development of tools, technology or services, a licensing agreement with a third party, the development of a spinout company or social enterprise.

Interdisciplinary Projects

Tackling Global Challenges requires a co-ordinated approach across multiple disciplines to offer solutions which cannot be gained through a single discipline. BBSRC and NERC are collaborating on this call in order to support multidisciplinary projects which draw upon expertise from within both the environmental and biological sciences to address challenges which require the coordination of different knowledge, capabilities and skills. Projects must therefore include a balance of environmental and biological science. Proposals which are primarily/solely within the remit of either BBSRC or NERC will not be considered within the scope of this call.

Multidisciplinary projects which also involve elements of other disciplines (eg: social science, economics) are also welcomed, provided the majority of the project falls within the remit of BBSRC and NERC.

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Sharing Challenges and working with in-country users

Applicants are encouraged to be innovative in their approaches to accelerate the uptake of previous or existing research and other outputs by users. Successful projects are those that will generate sustainable outcomes and impact. In order to achieve this, users (non-academic organisations, including third sector, private sector or public sector organisations) based in or working in the listed LMICs (see Table 1) should be engaged by the applicant in the co-creation of the project at the earliest possible point and included in the proposal as project partners, defining the issues to be addressed, the project objectives, and the specification of outputs, ensuring value, benefit and utility to the users. Providing evidence to this effect is essential.

Applications should explain how any stakeholder collaboration strengthens the route to impact and likelihood or scale of beneficial outcomes. This should include any specific commitments from institutions or enterprises from the UK or developing countries to adopt or apply outcomes of the research, and where appropriate it is helpful to outline how this enhances local innovation and research capacity at an individual, institutional or whole system level.

Applications involving collaborations with UK business, industry or other organisations are also welcomed, especially where contributions (cash or in-kind) are leveraged, or where UK partners enable access and/or provide expertise which facilitates engagement with in-country users.  


Applications to this call should have a primary focus on translation of existing research, and the following are out of scope:

  • Projects focused solely on delivering training
  • Academics acting as consultants for commercial third parties
  • Projects that only involve/engage the academic community or between the research base and the general public
  • New research

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Official Development Assistance

Applicants must demonstrate that the primary purpose of their proposed project is to promote the economic development and welfare of people in the DAC partner country. The scale and breadth of its potential impact will be an important consideration in the assessment of proposals.

Successful proposals aiming to work with a country on the DAC list of ODA recipients will focus on delivering outcomes that promote the long-term sustainable growth of that country (or countries). Funding within this call will therefore be awarded in a manner that fits with ODA guidelines.

Applicants should refer to the ODA Compliance Questionnaire guidance within the Completing your Je-S Submission and Attachments section, for further information about demonstrating ODA compliance in their project.

Gender equality

As part of this call it will be mandatory for all applications to provide a Gender Equality Compliance Statement. This statement must outline how applicants have taken meaningful yet proportionate consideration as to how the project will contribute to reducing gender inequalities, as required under the 2014 International Development (Gender Equality) Act.

Applicants should refer to the Gender Equality section within the Completing your Je-S Submission and Attachments section, for information about demonstrating gender equality compliance.

Project scale and duration

UKRI anticipates supporting 12-16 projects up to a maximum cost of £250,000 each, with a duration of up to 22 months (projects must end by 31 march 2022 at the latest).

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All projects are required to be led by a Principal Investigator, who is a current or past BBSRC and/or NERC grant-holder, and based in a UK Research Organisation eligible for UKRI funding, details of which are in UKRI Eligibility for Research Council funding.

As well as UK researchers normally eligible for BBSRC and NERC funding, applications to this call must include at least one in-country non-academic user from a DAC-listed country in the Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia or Southern Asia regions as a project partner.

Proposals may optionally also include Co-Investigators based in a university, other recognised higher education institution or other research institution in the DAC-listed country where the proposal aims to deliver impact. Eligible co-investigators will receive funding through the lead UK research organisation.

Please see the Eligibility Guidance for Applicants for full details of eligibility.

How to apply

Applications must be submitted via the Je-S system by 16:00 BST on 18 September 2019.

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

Full details of the submission process and documentation required are provided in the Guidance for Applicants annex.

Application downloads

BBSRC-NERC translation equality inclusion assessment (PDF 60KB)

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ODA compliance questionnaire (DOCX 53KB)

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  • Call opens in Je-S: Tuesday 9 July 2019
  • Call closes: 4pm (BST) Wednesday 18 September 2019
  • Assessment panel: November 2019
  • Announcement of Awards: January 2020
  • Project start date: 1 April 2020

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Related calls: GCRF innovation