CANADA-GLOBAL: New spending on agricultural research

Canada has put out a call for research proposals to try to solve some of the developing world's most pressing agricultural needs. The Canadian International Development Agency recently launched the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, a five-year C$62 million (US$58.5 million) envelope that will support research partnerships between Canadian and developing country organisations.

The research projects awarded funding will focus on applied science, with researchers studying crop resilience, the nutritional value of crops, and infectious diseases related to crops and animal production being likely applicants.

The development agency and its partner, the International Development Research Centre, a Canadian government-funded agency, will send a call for proposals in the next few months. The two are in the process of establishing committees that will oversee the governance of and help set the technical guidelines for the research fund.

The changing nature of Africa's agricultural sector has been one of the motivating factors behind the government creating the fund. While most of the continent's countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, were food exporters back in the 1960s, Africa now spends C$33 billion on food imports annually.

Canada believes this imbalance, as well as the rates of malnourishment that affect one third of the population, could be improved by lifting the barriers stopping Africa's farming sector from getting a better toehold on global and continental trade.

"While domestic food production and availability is a crucial factor for ensuring greater access to food by vulnerable groups, regional trade integration and increased access to markets for African food producers is fundamental to foster sustainable development of the agriculture sector in Africa," wrote CIDA spokesperson Scott Cantin, in an email to University World News.

Cantin said the agency wanted to help strengthen national and regional agricultural research systems by increasing investment for research and innovation, and broadening and deepening publicly available research that focuses on food security issues.

He said CIDA was committed to forming partnerships with research groups in Africa, adding that Canada had doubled all investments related to sustainable agricultural development to C$1.2 billion from 2007-2008 levels over three years.

Researchers who focus on African agriculture usually keep the small farmer in mind. In many African countries, smallholder farmers produce 80% of the food consumed, according to CIDA's figures.

"But smallholder assets are poorly developed and they have very limited access to services that would enable them to increase the returns on their assets," Cantin said, giving the example of seeds, fertilizer, veterinary drugs and financial services being less available to them.

"Active participation and ownership of the development programmes by farmers, farmer organisations and local communities will be essential and part of CIDA's partnership in developing countries."

He added that small, family-based farms had tremendous potential to make agriculture a key driver for both economic growth and poverty reduction. "We have seen that great results can be achieved through the expansion of rural entrepreneurship and trade, particularly among women and youth, through rural cooperatives, community-based organisations, trader and producer associations, and with greater access to and effectiveness of financial services for small-holder farmers."

Cantin cited Ghana as a country that had been able to achieve remarkable agricultural improvement. Its government had achieved per capita food crop growth of 4.4% on average since 2001, with a 6.2% increase in 2009.

Canada is hoping that through its new research fund, partnering with research institutes in Africa and through its financial support of the many research networks such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Forum for Agricultural Research and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, other African countries will begin posting similar good-news numbers.

For more information about research funding opportunities, email IDRC at with subject title "CIFSRF request for information--[insert name of organisation]. In the text of the email provide the name of a contact person, organisation name, address, telephone number and fax number.