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GCRF Foundation Awards for Global Agricultural and Food Systems Research

Copyright: CIAT on Flickr by CC 2.0
Medical Research Council website
ESRC website

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 13 May 2016 - 28 September 2016

Generic observations

Generic post meeting observations have been provided below and are not specific to any application. These observations have also been written to be useful to you, colleagues and institutions for other ODA multidisciplinary calls so please feel free to share it more widely. This document incorporates some feedback provided at the outline stage. Please note some of the comments are general observations and may not have been used by the panel to evaluate any application.


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a new five year £1.5 billion resource funding stream, announced as part of the 2015 spending review, to ensure that UK research takes a leading role in addressing the problems faced by developing countries. The GCRF will deploy the UK’s world-class research capability to address the challenges faced by the developing world. The funding is protected science spend and the research councils are primary delivery partners. The GCRF is also part of the UK government’s pledge to allocate 0.7% of Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance, promoting the welfare and economic development of developing countries. With the GCRF focus on global challenges, research investments are expected to span disciplines including the biological sciences, environmental sciences, medicine, engineering and physical sciences, the social sciences and the arts and humanities.

The research councils have each received directly allocated portions of the GCRF and BBSRC, MRC, ESRC, AHRC and NERC are drawing on their individual allocations to support this opportunity for Foundation Awards in Global Agriculture and Food Systems. In addition to the funds allocated to councils, there is a large amount of funding that remains unallocated. GCRF delivery partners are working towards a strategy for this and further details will be announced as soon as possible.


BBSRC, MRC, ESRC, AHRC and NERC are working in a co-funding partnership to support multidisciplinary Foundation Awards for Global Agriculture and Food Systems. Foundation awards aim to be flexible, moderately sized, short to medium-term investments targeted towards novel research objectives - that address the challenges faced by the developing world. Up to £16.3 million is available based on the quality of proposals received. BBSRC is leading and managing the call on behalf of the other funders with an anticipated BBSRC budget in the region of £12 million and funding support from MRC, ESRC, AHRC and NERC.

This BBSRC-led call complements the MRC-led Foundation Awards strategies in Global Health Science - Beyond Infections, and Global Infections - Vision and Strategy; these other calls are also being co-funded substantially by BBSRC, and also by ESRC, AHRC and NERC.


The aims of GCRF Foundation Awards for Global Agriculture and Food Systems Research are to:

  • deploy existing UK research strengths and/or emerging capabilities in specific research area(s) relevant to agriculture and food challenges in Low and/or Middle Income Countries (LMICs)
  • promote multidisciplinary approaches in addressing the challenges
  • encourage, where applicable, research partnerships between UK research teams and LMICs
  • build on any existing UK-LMICs links
  • develop new or enhanced research capacity for addressing the agriculture and food challenges of LMICs.

Check the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of eligible countries (PDF).


Funding is available for research activities with potential to rapidly advance knowledge that addresses the above aims. It is envisaged that, in many cases, foundation award funding will enable the building of necessary multidisciplinary research capability, at the same time as building towards the generation of relevant new knowledge.

Possible uses of foundation awards might include elements of, but are not limited to, the following:

  • exploratory or pump-priming research studies for investigation of new approaches and/or generation of preliminary data
  • developing new (particularly multidisciplinary) research collaborations or partnerships
  • extending the scope of existing research for wider application in LMICs
  • creating effective pathways to impact for the application of research in LMICs
  • sampling and/or data collection, where it includes some additional research analysis and integration
  • development or modification of relevant research tools or techniques
  • enhancing capability and/or capacity (e.g. placements and/or two-way exchanges - within appropriate immigration frameworks).

Foundation awards are focused on early-stage work during which research questions can be defined and partnerships formed and translational approaches explored. Where proposals are founded on existing well developed research and relationships, applicants need to make it clear what is novel about the research and/or partnership.

Project scale

Foundation awards are moderately sized short-to-medium term investments. They are expected to vary in scale according to the nature of the research question and extent of the multidisciplinary aspects of the proposal. The total funding requested for each project is not expected to exceed £600,000 (80% FEC). The resources requested should appropriately reflect the specific requirements of the proposed activity.

Project duration

Awards are expected to start on 1 April 2017 (no later than 1 May 2017). Due to the pump-priming and preliminary nature of the proposals we are anticipating many applications will be in the region of 24 months duration. Requests for support for shorter (e.g. 18 months) or longer periods (36 months) will also be considered.

Research challenges

The scope of the challenge and associated research opportunities for the call is detailed in a supporting document. It highlights five broad - interrelated and interconnected - research challenges as follows, each of which provides considerable scope for a variety of approaches:

  1. Systems that deliver safe and nutritious food for all.
  2. Resilience of the food system to climatic variability.
  3. Reducing losses throughout the agri-food chain and reusing unavoidable food waste.
  4. Agriculture within the context of the wider landscape.
  5. Urban agriculture.

Official Development Assistance

All research funded through the GCRF Foundation Awards call will form part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). Therefore, research proposals submitted to this call should clearly demonstrate that the primary purpose is to promote the economic development and welfare of Low and/or Middle Income Countries (LMICs) on the DAC list of ODA recipients (PDF) as its main objective. Please see FAQs for more detail on this.

Research activities should use the UK’s research strengths to address one or more research topics set out in the call in an international development context. For example whilst research may be conducted on non-UK crops and/or crops also grown in the UK, in both cases, the primary purpose should be to improve the ability of LMICs to undertake and disseminate research to maximise its impact on welfare and economic growth. Research orientated towards crops grown in the UK and developing countries should clearly demonstrate how the knowledge gained will primarily focus on benefit agricultural systems and/or varieties grown in LMICs. There is further explanation of these points in the FAQs.

Proposals that do not clearly articulate how the proposed research will address near-term or long-term benefits to the welfare or prosperity of LMICs will be rejected. Guidance on ODA definitions and interpretation is available in the OECD factsheet 'Is it ODA?' (PDF)

Working with “in-country” partners

GCRF will deploy world-class research capability within the UK to address the challenges faced by the developing world and whilst working in partnership with LMICs is encouraged as a way to ensure the research will have an appropriate pathway to impact, it is not mandatory.

It is recognised that research strategies and the approach to partnership and capability development will vary significantly, depending on whether the research is oriented towards/conducted with LMICs. In-country partners might also include global agencies and research organisations such as the CGIAR centres.

Regulation and ethical issues will vary across different countries and should be considered from the outset where work is focused in a particular country. Researchers funded by this call be expected to work within applicable international and local guidelines, and to obtain ethical review in the local country(ies) and in the UK.


BBSRC is the lead research council for the call. As such, standard BBSRC eligibility criteria apply for all principal and co-investigators. For detailed guidance, please see section three of our grants guide.

Applications must be submitted by UK research organisations that are eligible to receive funding from BBSRC. Information about eligible organisations is available on the RCUK website.

Non-eligible partners (including those from overseas organisations) may be included, as described in section two of our grants guide, under ‘Collaborative Research Grants’.

Investigators may only participate in one outline application to this initiative as a principal investigator, but may be involved in more applications as a co-investigator.

At the full proposal stage research organisations may be asked to coordinate their response and prioritise their submissions. While we wish to encourage a suitable range of proposal types, applicants are advised to contact to discuss any issues or concerns.

Applicants should note that the BBSRC New Investigator, LINK and IPA schemes will not operate in this call. Partnership working with industry, where relevant, is encouraged.

Any queries about eligibility for this call should be submitted to

How to apply

This call is closed to applications.

There is a two stage application and assessment process: outline and full proposals.

BBSRC is leading on the administration of this call, on behalf of all the funders. Applicants should refer to our grants guide and Je-S help text for further information.

Full proposals

Applicants of successful outline proposals will be invited to submit a full proposal through the research councils' Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) System, with effect from 8 August 2016. Guidance on how to submit the full application will be made available on this webpage by 8 August 2016.

Deadline for full applications is 28 September 2016.

Assessment process: Outline proposals

Outline proposals will be checked and assessed against the outline assessment criteria by relevant research council teams, seeking external expert input as appropriate.

Given the broad and responsive nature of this call and the new approach that it represents, the aim of the outline proposal stage is to provide constructive strategic and practical feedback to assist applicants with building a compelling case for a full proposal; ensure alignment with ODA expectations; to facilitate coordination to achieve a strong portfolio of awards; and manage demand for the full proposal stage. No assessment of research quality or feedback on this aspect will be provided at the outline stage.

If proposals do not fit with the remit of the scheme, including ODA and project requirements, then outline applicants will not be invited to proceed to submit a full proposal. In such cases the decision will be final and will not be open to appeal.

Please note that the funders reserve the right to limit the number of full applications invited from each individual institution as part of demand management, if necessary. There is no limit placed on outline submissions.

Assessment process: Full proposals

Applications to the full proposal stage will be by invitation only. Additional requirements for full proposals out with normal processes will be outlined in the invitation letter.

Full proposals will be assessed by one or more multidisciplinary expert panels, established in consultation with all funders. It is anticipated that the panel(s) will meet in late 2016.


Call opens 13 May 2016
Outline proposals deadline 22 June 2016, 16:00
Outline proposals feedback Mid-August 2016
Full proposals call open 8 August 2016
Full proposals deadline (invite only) 28 September 2016, 16:00
Funding decisions February 2017
Latest possible project start 1 May 2017

Grant start date

All proposals must indicate a start date no later than 1 May 2017 (this date has been revised since publication) and will be required to start by this date. A convincing timeline must be presented and will form part of the assessment. As no delays to project start dates will be allowable, applicants should be realistic about start up times and only participate in the call if the intended activities can begin on the required schedule.

Grants will be managed according to RCUK standard grant terms and conditions. Additional reporting requirements may be required and will be confirmed later

Panel membership

Professor Peter Fryer - University of Birmingham (Chair)
Professor Christine Williams - University of Reading (Deputy Chair)
Professor Jeff Waage - London International Development Centre, University of London (Deputy Chair)
Dr Tina Barsby - NIAB
Professor Martin Broadley - The University of Nottingham
Professor John Crawford - Rothamsted Research
Professor Christine Foyer - University of Leeds
Professor Margaret Gill - CGIAR/Aberdeen
Professor Bruce Grieve - The University of Manchester
Professor Anthony Hall - Earlham Institute
Professor Claire Halpin - University of Dundee
Professor Sue Hartley - University of York
Professor Claire Heffernan - University of Bristol
Dr Jon Hillier - University of Aberdeen
Professor Tom Humphrey - Swansea University
Dr Katherine Kahn - Gates Foundation
Professor Steve McCorriston - University of Exeter
Professor Richard Pywell - NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Professor Christopher Rawlings - Rothamsted Research
Professor Mark Reed - Newcastle University
Professor David Salt - The University of Nottingham
Professor Julie Scholes - The University of Sheffield
Professor John Snape - John Innes Centre
Professor Sian Sullivan - Bath Spa University
Professor Lesley Torrance - University of St Andrews/James Hutton Institute
Professor Dirk Werling - Royal Veterinary College
Professor Tom Wileman - University of East Anglia

Awarded grants

35 grants were awarded.

Header image copyright: CIAT on Flickr by CC 2.0


Global Challenges Research Fund

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