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Protect Crop Plants from Biotic Stresses from Field to Market (Round 8)


The Context:

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.

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 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 Challenge:

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.

To be considered, proposals must closely align with the goals of the foundation’s Agricultural Development team. As such, we are looking for ideas that will:

  • Substantially increase the sustainable productivity of smallholder farmers in developing countries within the next 10-20 years;
  • 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.

 A few of the many possible examples to be considered include:

  • Applications from outside the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and biochemistry;
  • Biological control;
  • Novel molecular or genetic solutions;
  • Novel strategies in crop management;
  • Biological and engineering solutions for post-harvest protection;
  • New strategies for coupling broader environmental sustainability with crop protection;
  • Integrated pest management systems;
  • Genetic and biochemical approaches – if those approaches constitute a substantial improvement on current practices;
  • Other applications not highlighted here.

We will not consider funding for:

  • Ideas that are not directly relevant to 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;
  • Incremental improvements in crop protection strategies;
  • Improvements to current regulated chemicals or the development of new chemical formulations that would be considered regulated chemicals;
  • Maintenance crop breeding;
  • Delivery models for seeds, chemicals, inputs, or other existing technologies;
  • Proposals that focus solely on abiotic stresses (e.g., drought, heat, etc.).

Great ideas come from everywhere.

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