USDA launches $160m fund for agri research and education

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award grants across water, climate, childhood obesity and food security projects.

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has launched a $160 million fund for research, education and extension projects that aim to solve societal challenges.

NIFA will fund the awards through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), and funding announcements are expected later this year or early next year, according to Jennifer Martin, a USDA spokesperson.

Out of the $160 million, some $116 million is available for the foundation program, which covers agricultural sciences critical for solving current and future societal challenges, according to the USDA release. About $9 million will be available for water projects, $6 million for food safety, $6 million for childhood obesity prevention, $5 million for climate variability and change and $16.8 million for food security.

“Food safety is the core of what we do,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director, in an interview. “We want to make sure food is accessible, affordable and nutritionally available to people.”

There is a cap on the size of an individual grant, which varies from programme to programme. A project for food security can receive as much as $4 million while a water challenge project might be granted only a few hundred thousand dollars.

“The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was created to find innovative solutions to the challenges we face as a society, such as hunger and food security, health, climate, food safety, and bioenergy,” said Ramaswamy in a statement.

Ramaswamy told Agri Investor that NIFA is currently reviewing the proposals and the overall funding rate over the last three years is around 13 percent. In some more competitive programmes, the rate drops to six percent.

NIFA plans to significantly increase investments for AFRI in 2016 and has a proposed total mandatory and endowment funding of $1.69 billion, according to the fiscal 2016 president’s budget proposal.