Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9
Biotic stresses such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects and other pests and pathogens are a major constraint to agricultural productivity from fields to markets in the developing world. With few resources to combat or prevent infection and infestation, people farming small plots of land in developing countries are most vulnerable to these stresses and can experience devastating crop losses before and after harvests.
Currently, most crop protection strategies involve genetic improvement of plants to resist pests and pathogens and/or the application of chemical deterrents. In areas of high disease pressure, like tropical sub-Saharan Africa, new crop varieties that are released with single sources of genetic resistance are frequently overcome either before or soon after poor farmers gain access to the improved varieties. Although some farmers do apply chemical herbicides and pesticides, access is limited and not always accompanied with training, which results in ineffective and unsafe use.
Pests and pathogens that affect crop plants after harvest can be equally difficult for smallholder farmers to combat. Post-harvest losses mean surplus crops do not reach market, affecting the livelihoods of farming families, and too often these families are left with no other option than to eat contaminated stored food. These constraints impact the food security of these farming families as well as the communities and countries in which they live.
The aim of this topic is to solicit transformative solutions to the pest and pathogen pressures faced by smallholder farmers in developing countries. We encourage researchers and entrepreneurs to harness the emerging information and tools in biology and engineering for the goals of agricultural development, to generate ideas that will revolutionize current approaches to crop protection by focusing on the plant, the pests, pathogens, weeds, and/or their interactions. Preliminary data is not required, but proposals should clearly demonstrate how the idea is an innovative leap in progress with the potential to be transformative.
To be considered, proposals must closely align with the goals of the foundation’s Agricultural Development team. As such, we are looking for proposals that:
- Offer an innovative and transformative solution to protect crop plants from biotic stresses;
- Substantially increase the sustainable productivity of smallholder farmers in developing countries within the next 10-20 years;
- Offer potential for dramatic cost reductions or increases in efficiency compared to currently available crop protection strategies;
- Have potential applicability to one or more of the following crops: maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, and groundnuts;
- Target a specific or set of specific biotic stresses;
- Convey a clear and testable hypothesis.
A few examples of the many possible examples to be considered include:
- Applications from fields outside the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and biochemistry including engineering, physical science, atmospheric science, epidemiology, computer science and others;
- Biological control;
- Novel and innovative molecular or genetic solutions;
- Novel and innovative strategies in crop management or integrated pest management;
- Biological and engineering solutions for post-harvest protection;
- New strategies for coupling broader environmental sustainability with crop protection;
- Other applications not highlighted here.
We will not consider funding for:
- Incremental improvements in our knowledge or application of current crop protection strategies;
- Ideas that are not directly relevant to agricultural systems in developing countries;
- Ideas that are not applicable to the following crops: maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, and groundnuts;
- Improvements to current regulated chemicals or the development of new chemical formulations that would be considered regulated chemicals;
- Maintenance crop breeding such as selecting for a trait or set of traits from a known set of germplasm using established genetic or standard breeding techniques;
- Transfer of existing technology to a new system without innovative modification (e.g. insertion of an established plant protection gene or genes into a different plant);
- Delivery models for seeds, chemicals, inputs, or other existing technologies;
- Proposals that focus solely on extension services to demonstrate or advertise existing technologies;
- Large scale screens without a specific target or novel methodology;
- Proposals that focus solely on abiotic stresses (e.g., drought, heat, etc.).