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Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Phase 1 Seed Grants- Round 12 Request for Proposals on Food Security and Nutrition

Funding Call Details

Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Phase 1 Seed Grants | Round 12 Request for Proposals on Food Security and Nutrition

Call Release date:  October 27, 2020 

Call submission deadline:  December 4, 2020 at 23:59hrs East African Time

The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), created through a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) welcome proposals to address a new Grand Challenge: Promoting and facilitating innovative solutions to achieve Food Security and Nutrition in Africa. These grand challenge innovation grants will be issued and administered under  Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa), a programme implemented in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This challenge focuses on key targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. SDG2 is interconnected with and interdependent on several other SDGs that strongly relate to food security and nutrition including: SDG1 (poverty), SDG3 (health), SDG4 (education), SDG5 (gender equality), SDG6 (water and sanitation), SDG13 (climate), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on land). This call aims to stimulate new approaches, interventions, tools and novel combinations of existing approaches to ensure that Africa progresses rapidly to improve sustainable and equitable access to nutrient dense foods that promote good health. The challenge will pay attention to five key research priority areas as ranked by leading experts working in Food Security and Nutrition on the African continent deemed critical to address the existing gaps.

Funding for this call

GC Africa will fund African Investigators through this GC Africa Food Security and Nutrition (FSN) call. We are seeking innovative global development and health solutions related to achieving food security and nutrition and are now accepting proposals for applications. Subject to the eligibility requirements in the GC Africa Rules & Guidelines,  investigators are invited to apply, with the support of the primary organisation where they are affiliated, and where the major programme of work will be undertaken. Applications MUST be submitted through the AAS Ishango Online Application Portal. Grants will go to investigators in African countries, but we encourage partnerships with investigators in other countries, especially where the opportunity exists to build new or strengthen existing collaborations.

Applicants can be at any level of experience and working in any discipline, from any organization, including colleges and universities, government laboratories, research institutions, for profit and non-profit organizations.

Funding amount

The Food Security and Nutrition (FSN) awards will fund projects up to USD $100,000 for a maximum of 2 years. These awards are seed grants (phase I) meant to provide an opportunity to test particularly bold, proof of concept ideas, including applying approaches from outside the fields indicated for this call. New approaches could be piloted as additions to ongoing projects. Winners of the GC Africa-FSN grants will have an opportunity to apply for follow-on, transition to scale funding in future but please note that support for phase II funding is NOT part of this call.

Future phase II calls - Funded at up to USD 1 million per three-year project, phase II awards require substantial preliminary data (to be collected during phase I) and are meant to provide an opportunity to develop, refine, and rigorously test combinations of activities, including sets of interventions for which some or all have previously shown promise in controlled or limited settings. We expect that successful projects funded under this call, and which demonstrate promising results, will have the opportunity to apply for phase II funding either to GC Africa or directly to our partners.

 In all cases, individual project budgets should be representative of the scope and magnitude of the proposed studies and carefully designed to get the best possible value out of the award. The applicant recipient institution, organization or company will also be required to provide assurances on their capacity to manage the grant through detailed letters of support from the appropriate research or innovation support office. The AAS reserves the right to undertake due diligence site visits to organizations hosting successful candidates before making final awards.

Addressing food security and malnutrition are priorities within the African Union development agendas in Africa, and is in line with the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition that calls for coordinated response from a wide group of actors to address the world’s nutrition issues towards attaining the SDGs. The continent has made some improvements but like the rest of the world, needs to strengthen efforts to achieve food security and nutrition targets of SDG2 to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. An estimated 256 million people - an additional 44 million since 2014- are hungry on the continent. Apart from hunger, regular access to sufficient and nutritious food remains a challenge with an increase in the number of people-over half (57.2%) of the population within Sub Saharan Africa who are currently experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity.

Many countries still face malnutrition challenges of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that are associated with higher risk of infections and poor childhood developmental and cognitive outcomes. The number of stunted children under 5 has increased overtime to 58.8 million in Africa and in 2019, 36% of the 144 million children under 5 who were stunted globally were in Sub-Saharan Africa6. In 2018, 14 million (7.1%) of children in Africa experienced wasting. Childhood as well as adult obesity and overweight are emergent burdens of malnutrition that increase risk for non-communicable diseases. Adult obesity has increased in Africa in all regions and an upward trend in overweight children particularly evident in certain regions of Africa. Several countries have progressed in reducing malnutrition, but the pace is still slow and there are variations across African sub-regions.

Food systems in Africa are key to achieve SDG2. Small scale producers who constitute a significant portion of food production in many African countries still have significantly lower productivity and income levels than their large-scale counterparts, likely due to challenges with regards to access to resources, information, market, financial services and other opportunities. Increase in food prices -mostly focused in Sub-Saharan Africa- is another notable factor that has affected access to proper nutrition.

There is urgent need for interventions that can address key challenges such as economic factors, climate shocks and conflict that prevent progress towards food security in Africa by affecting the availability, access to, utilization and sustainability of food security and nutrition outcomes, particularly in children. More recently, the health and socioeconomic impacts of the coronavirus 19 (COVID-19) pandemic have further added strain to food systems and economies and such effects especially true for vulnerable populations.

Food security and nutrition is part of the 10 priorities of the African Science, Technology and Innovation Priorities (ASP) programme.

In June 2020, AESA convened a diverse group of experts from across Africa to deliberate on research and development priorities to achieve food security and nutrition targets in Africa. Here, it became apparent the need for funding targeted at food security and nutrition innovations.

This call hopes to promote quality research and innovation to address these critical gaps and is a culmination of engaging leading stakeholders through a survey between July and August 2020 on the African continent to identify top priority areas towards securing sustainable food systems and addressing malnutrition.

This call is focused on the SDG2 targets with the overall objective of enabling and fostering African innovators and researchers to work in local and global collaborative partnerships on the ambitious but achievable goals of accelerating knowledge generation, developing and deploying interventions and innovations that will advance the progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security and addressing malnutrition in all forms.

The call aims to build capacities for Africa to respond to, mitigate and where possible, reverse effects of various challenges to achieving food security and nutrition such as climate change and variability, malnutrition, conflict, economic downturns and price volatility in markets, decline in yields, poor land and water management, including within the context of more recent complex and unprecedented issues of COVID-19 pandemic and locust outbreaks in some parts of Eastern Africa.

This joint initiative of GC Africa partners (AAS and Sida) also aims to nurture and strengthen the innovation ecosystem in Africa by supporting the development of sustainable research networks which will contribute in solving Africa’s challenges in Global Development and Health. We want to develop a community of African leaders in research and innovation; strengthen the development of innovative solutions facilitating the resolution of challenges in global health and development that Africa is facing; reinforce research and training capacity in African institutions through skills transfer between international networks and partner organizations hosting the grand challenges projects; and facilitate sustainable multidisciplinary partnerships between research groups in Africa.  

Projects that will apply and enable adoption of new technologies, innovations and policies in at least one of the following key areas to:

  1. Ensuring climate resilient food systems
  2. Promote technologies, innovations and agribusinesses to achieve food security and nutrition targets
  3. Address cross-cutting issues that promote food security and nutrition
  4. Achieve the nutrition and health targets of the African Union
  5. Tackle sustainable commercialisation and production of indigenous foods

Projects should aim to develop innovations or interventions that address at least one aspect of food security and nutrition (access, availability, utilisation and sustainability) or provide novel evidence-based ways to strengthen and promote effectiveness of these aspects for existing solutions. Such solutions may include but are not limited to models, strategies, tools, services, technologies and processes. We seek ideal solutions that apply a deeper understanding of the end user and consider the contextual constraints of implementation.

Projects must be relevant to strengthening food security and nutrition systems and may target key stakeholders such as individuals, families, communities, farmers, service providers and components of food infrastructure, networks, and systems.

Examples of what we will consider funding for- innovations that:

  • Highlight and enhance interventions that increase resilience of agri-food systems to climate related shocks (drought, pests, floods or pandemics such as COVID-19 etc). 
  • Provide accessible and acceptable options for scaling up climate smart agricultural practices e.g. reduce emissions from agriculture, prevent loss of biodiversity, prevent soil degradation and soil nutrient depletion etc. 
  • Investigate agricultural practices that can reverse the negative impacts of intensive agriculture while at the same time combat acute and chronic food insecurity. 
  • Develop measures for access of nutrient dense and affordable foods by low income communities to tackle multiple burdens of malnutrition (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) while mitigating against negative impacts of dietary transition. 
  • Target activities that mitigate community-specific constraints to improving the nutrition status of specific groups - infants, children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, elderly, ill individuals or convalescents etc. 
  • Research the potential for indigenous food systems in preventing the surge of non-communicable diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, wasting, undernutrition, obesity, and overweight in Africa. 
  • Prioritize policies that promote access and affordability of nutritious food by vulnerable groups. 
  • Promote use of agriculture, food and nutrition as a factor for socioeconomic development; equity and inclusion; stability, and for ensuring peace and security. 
  • Develop structures that promote advances in agrifood systems, homegrown solutions to food insecurity, training facilities for new generations of actors in the agrifood systems e.g. young farmers, traders, innovators, researchers, etc. 
  • Identify strategies to improve productivity in indigenous agrifood systems including indigenous crops and livestock.
  • Identify support required for the development of the seed production sector for nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables as well as underutilized and indigenous foods including livestock production. 
  • Research market value chains for indigenous foods, their safety and efficacy testing including marketing and consumer perceptions. 
  • Build diversified and sustainable food systems that promote dietary patterns high in nutrient density (e.g. fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, insects etc.) and demote patterns of highly processed, energy-dense, low-nutrient food. 
  • Promote technologies/innovations that minimize pre-harvest and post-harvest losses and/or general food waste through consumption patterns e.g. food storage, recycling technologies, dietary patterns etc. 
  • Promote innovations that decrease contamination of food e.g. aflatoxins and other sources of foodborne diseases.
  • Promote sustainable animal husbandry practices that can reduce infections and dependence on antibiotics. 

Criteria for success will include solutions that:

  • Could contribute to a portfolio of funded projects that addresses a country’s key priorities or regional challenges.
  • Clearly incorporate measures of success reasonable for the timespan of the grant (24 months).
  • Incorporate multiple areas of innovation or broaden toolkits of interventions, especially sets of interventions targeting combinations of outcomes spanning the spectrum of objectives outlined for this call.
  • Have a project plan whereby after two years- the end of phase I grant period- grantees will be in a position to explore how the results from their project could inform the design of a more extensive collaborative package of work that can be submitted for phase II funding. 
  • Address well identified barriers and constraints which will be solved by implementing locally relevant programs.
  • Explain how proposed innovations and interventions will eventually be tested in communities so that they have the highest likelihood of being relevant for implementation more broadly in the country’s systems.
  • Provide data or evidence for effective food security and nutrition solutions.
  • Address inequities in food security and nutrition.
  • May potentially build on existing partnerships, which will be essential to achieve results at scale.
  • Basic research purely focused on research tools/methodologies that does not provide a clear path to development and testing of approaches that lead to measurable outcomes or impact of enhancing food security and nutrition.
  • Projects without the potential to expand in scale to provide solutions to a greater number or diversity of people.
  • Projects lacking metrics to determine success or failure and to allow decisions about the appropriateness of follow-on/phase II funding.
  • Solutions that are only variations of existing approaches or repetitions of conventional solutions without novel application e.g. replication of an approach in a new geography in the absence of added innovation.
  • Projects that cannot be implemented in low- and middle-income countries in Africa i.e. ideas not directly relevant to low- and middle-income country contexts.
  • Solutions that require our long-term financial support where proof of concept cannot be demonstrated within the scope of the Phase 1 award (100,000 USD over 24 months).
  • Projects that don't clearly consider the current contexts and relevant socio-cultural, political, economic, environmental and infrastructural constraints of available services/systems.
  • Ideas that present ethical or safety risks.
  • Training or educational programs or campaigns without clearly articulated, measurable behaviour change outcomes.
  • Ideas that do not address at least one of the key aspects of  food security and nutrition interventions of, availability, access, utilisation and sustainability within the focus areas given.
  • Projects earmarking funds for lobbying activity (e.g., attempts to influence legislation or legislative action) or efforts to influence political campaigns for public office.

Proposals will be submitted in accordance with the Rules and Guidelines. The evaluation consists of a three-stage formal assessment by GC Africa involving an initial eligibility check, external international expert review and final committee decision.

Some of the variables that will be assessed during the initial evaluation include; completeness of the application documents, relevance and response to the call requirements, application from an African institution, with the grantee either a citizen or resident of the host country.

Only proposals meeting eligibility criteria will be submitted for expert review for content and quality. on the basis of:

  1. Innovation
  2. Scientific and technical excellence
  3. Judicious use of project resources
  4. Potential for impact and scaling

The call will encourage scientific collaborations between African researchers, and between different organisations across the continent that may include skills and data sharing between individually funded projects. We expect that such sharing will help to ensure that the goals of the innovative approaches in individual projects are ultimately integrated with each other. Furthermore, we expect that sharing experimental methods, data, and resources will ultimately improve the ability to compare and validate local research findings and to develop innovations, interventions and products that can have impact at a greater scale. The reviewers to this call will evaluate how well applications address these requirements.

Collaborative efforts may involve:

  • Cohort harmonisation: when collaborating with projects with existing cohorts or establishing new cohorts, investigators will be expected to participate, whenever possible, in cohort harmonization. Study sites will be expected to develop and follow standard operating procedures and quality control protocols for specimen collections and participate in the establishment of a minimum common set of data and specimens to be collected across the program.
  • Short visits: Where a team organises to visit another for the sake of knowledge sharing and technology transfer. The costs for this should be included in the budget.
  • Data sharing: Projects will submit a data sharing plan that is equitable, ethical, and efficient.


About Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key problems in global health and development for those most in need. It seeks to establish a portfolio of projects with complementary approaches that encompass multiple types of innovation, including innovation in biological research, medical health technology and product development, service delivery, and behaviour change. Grand Challenges initiatives therefore seek to engage diverse investigators, including those outside of the areas that might traditionally be associated with the initiative.  The challenge also encourages partnerships that bring together investigators from diverse organizations, including for-profit institutions, non-governmental organizations, academic and health research institutions, foundations, and civil society groups. Today, a variety of funding partners use “Grand Challenges” to accelerate research, creating an expanding network of funding and research partnerships spanning diverse topics (BMGF, GCC, USAID, Brazil, India, South Africa).

About Grand Challenges Africa

GC Africa seeks to promote Africa-led scientific innovations to help countries better achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by awarding seed and full grants to the continent’s most impressive solutions. GC Africa is implemented through the AESA Platform. AESA (The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa) is a funding, agenda-setting, programme management initiative of  the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in partnership with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), founding and funding global partners, and through a resolution of the summit of African Union Heads of Governments. GC Africa is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sida, BMBF, MMV, H3D and other partners.

About the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation. Sida works on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government with the aim of implementing Swedish development policies and the goal to enable people living in poverty and oppression to improve their lives. Sida does not implement aid interventions but works in partnership with other actors. Sida’s role is to allocate financial resources and to develop knowledge and competence, while our partners manage and execute the projects. Each country is responsible for its own development, and our local partners always have the best solutions for local problems. Sida’s Research Cooperation Unit promotes capacity-building for research in low/lower-middle income countries and research of high quality and innovations that are of relevance to poverty reduction and sustainable development in low/lower-middle income countries and regions.

Please contact if you need any clarification or enquiries during application.