Harvest for Health Breakthrough Crop Challenge

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Program Contact
Lucyna Kurtyka, M.S.
lkurtyka@foundationfar.org

Development Contact
Catherine Maxwell
cmaxwell@foundationfar.org

The Breakthrough Crop Challenge consists of two distinct parts:

  • Seed Funding – Predictive Model Concept Note: FFAR will award a maximum of five seed grants of up to $75,000 each to applicants submitting concept notes describing the development and validation of a predictive model. All recipients of the seed grant must apply for the second stage.

Applications open: March 16, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Applications due: July 20, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. ET

Winners announced: Fall 2022

  • Challenge – Predictive Model Development and Validation: Applicants will be eligible to receive $1 million for the predictive model they developed and validated. Applicants do not need to apply for Seed Funding to receive $1 million. The winning predictive model will be used for commercial development of select crops.

Applications open: Spring 2023

Download the RFA here.

FFAR and GAIN reserve the right not to issue funds if no predictive model meets all criteria outlined in the RFA. 

About Harvest for Health

Of more than 50,000 known edible plant species, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that only three crops – rice, wheat and maize – account for two-thirds of the world’s food supply. As a result, many nutritious, resilient crops remain underutilized, contributing to poor dietary diversity and health outcomes.

FFAR partnered with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to launch Harvest for Health initiative to accelerate the development of underutilized crops, increasing the diversity of foods in the marketplace. The model developed through this initiative will predict underutilized crops’ potential as sources of functional and nutritious ingredients that could replace, complement or aid in reformulating the existing food products or developing new ones.

Why Underutilized Crops?

Underutilized crops can help ensure nutritional security in the face of climate change and provide diverse economic opportunities to growers. Additionally, consumers are increasingly seeking healthier, sustainable food products and global flavor-driven food experiences. Introducing new and exciting nutritious foods with various tastes and flavors will expand the food and agriculture industry’s consumer base and contribute to our food system’s health and environmental sustainability.

Breakthrough Crop Challenge

While underutilized crops have incredible functional and nutritional potential, the development of such crops for consumption or use in other products is prohibitively expensive and time-intensive. To attract more private sector investment in underutilized crop development, Harvest for Health is launching the Breakthrough Crop Challenge to develop a predictive model that can screen underutilized crops to determine a crop’s usefulness as a source of functional ingredients or nutrients.

Learn more about the Breakthrough Crop Challenge by watching this short presentation.

Application guidelines

How will the prize be awarded?

The H4H Breakthrough Crop Challenge consists of two distinct parts:

  • Seed Funding – Predictive Model Concept Note:
  • Applicants will submit a predictive model concept note based on criteria outlined in the Application Details section below. Up to five (5) seed grants of up to US $75 000 each will be awarded to most promising concept notes describing the development and validation of a predictive model to be used in Challenge applications. Applications for seed grants will be due on July 20, 2022. All recipients of the seed grant must apply for the Challenge.
  • Challenge – Predictive Model Development and Validation: Applicants will develop and submit a validated predictive model outlined in the Application Details section below. All applications will be reviewed by an expert review panel and $1 million will be awarded to the predictive model that meets all outlined criteria and receives the highest score from the detailed review. Applications for the Challenge will open March 15, 2023 and be due July 12, 2023. FFAR and GAIN reserve the right to not issue a prize if no predictive model meets all criteria outlined.
Who is eligible?

Any US and non-US public or private institution, consortium, non-profit organization, for-profit company, tribal government entity or any combination of the above is eligible to apply. Contestants do not need to participate in Seed Funding to participate in the Challenge or potentially receive $1 million. The Challenge winner will be involved with FFAR in the utilization of the predictive model in Phase II of the Harvest for Health program, which will be used to prioritize underutilized crops for commercial development based on their potential for increased public and private investments.

What are the seed funding submission requirements?

The Breakthrough Crop Challenge is requesting concept notes for predictive models to identify crops with market potential as a source of one or more of the following functional ingredients:

  1. Thickeners, emulsifiers, and stabilizers 
  2. Bulking agents
  3. Taste and flavor enhancers
  4. High nutrient density (specific nutrients to be proposed by applicants)

Proposed models will be assessed and prioritized based on the number of functionalities addressed and the accuracy of their predictive abilities.

Ingredient functionality is dependent on specific physicochemical properties of molecules and, for less refined ingredients, the complex mixtures from which they are derived. For example, hydrocolloids are a class of compounds that include polysaccharides, such as starches used as thickening agents that can be found in a wide variety of crops, including potatoes, cassava, corn, lentils and cereals. Different hydrocolloids, often derived from different sources, have distinct physicochemical properties (e.g., solubility in cold or hot water, gelation, viscosity) that determine how well they function as thickeners, in addition to other functional ingredient properties such as stabilizers or emulsifiers.

For seed funding, applicants must state their hypothesis and outline a detailed plan to develop a predictive model using data that currently exists or is likely to exist for underutilized crops as model inputs. This includes, but is not limited to, compositional, genetic, and biochemical data. Applicants must provide descriptions of the volume and accessibility of data that will be used to build the predictive model. The predictive model may also consider advancements in processing and product development. Ideally, the predictive model will provide limited, reasonable predictions or inferences of functional properties using publicly available data on known ingredients that correlate the measured properties (see section on Examples of Important Measurements for Ingredients with Different Functional Properties below) with the potential applications and processing methods used to predict the desired quality and composition.

Seed Funding Submission Requirements

To submit concepts, applicant(s) must submit an online application using FFAR’S Grant Management System. Concepts must include: 

  • Principal Investigator (PI) contact information
  • Title of concept note
  • Clear description of which functionality(-ies) is/are being considered (up to 750 words)
  • Approach to developing the predictive model and rationale for this approach (up to 3,000 words):  
    • Description of the modeling technique 
    • Model development methodology
    • Hypothesis of candidate variables that will be important aspects of the predictive model
    • Set(s) of data that will be used for calibration and internal validation of the predictive model, including a justification for the use of this/these data set(s)
    • Validation methodology plan using a range of crops and measured properties
    • Describe possible barriers and approaches for overcoming them.
  • Qualifications of the Research Team
  • Budget request amount (up to $75 000) and itemized budget justification

Examples of Important Measurements for Ingredients with Different Functional Properties

Thickeners, Emulsifiers, and Stabilizers   

  1. Solubility in aqueous and non-aqueous solution
  2. Viscosity at standard concentration and shear rates
  3. Particle size
  4. Texture and gelation
  5. Volatiles (aroma), non-volatiles, taste components (sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, umami, sourness) 
  6. Emulsification 
  7. Ingredient compatibility and unique interaction/mechanism in product formation  
  8. pH, acid/base compatibility, and functionality
  9. Quality of protein – amino acid composition
  • Fiber (both soluble and insoluble)

Bulking Agents

  1. Solubility in aqueous and non-aqueous solution
  2. Melting range
  3. pH
  4. Saponification value, and ester value
  5. Organoleptic qualities 
  6. Total sugars and reducing sugars
  7. Ingredient compatibility and interaction/mechanism in product formation  

Taste and Flavor Enhancers

  1. Organoleptic qualities; Flavonoids  
  2. Solubility; ethanol, water, etc.
  3. Molecular weight
  4. Melting range and boiling point
  5. Volatiles (aroma), non-volatiles, taste components (sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, umami, sourness) 
  6. pH
  7. Refractive Index
  8. Specific gravity

High Nutrient Density

  1. Macronutrient (amount present. e.g., quality of protein [amino acid composition, bioavailability, etc.]) 
  2. Fiber (both soluble and insoluble) 
  3. Micronutrient (vitamin and mineral composition)

4. Known or novel phytochemicals of value, e.g., anthocyanins

Seed Funding Review Criteria 

Applicant submissions will undergo expert review. Reviewers will consider the following criteria when evaluating each Concept Note:

  • Technical merit,
  • Technical approach and validation strategy,
  • Expertise and qualifications of the team, and
  • Appropriateness of data sets selected for developing the predictive model.
  • Technical merit (25%)
    1. Does the concept note clearly describe functional properties to be considered?
    2. Are the goals and objectives of the concept note clear?
    3. Are possible barriers addressed and approaches for overcoming them proposed?
  • Technical approach and validation strategy (30%)
  1. Is the technical approach to developing the predictive model reasonable and scientifically feasible?
  2. Does the concept note describe the modeling technique to be used? 
  3. Does the concept note hypothesize candidate crop variables that will form important aspects of the predictive model?
  4. Does the concept note describe the model development methodology?
  5. Are the validation strategies described reasonable and scientifically feasible?
  • Expertise and qualifications of the team (15%)
  1. How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?
  2. Does the concept note demonstrate that the applicant would have adequate resources to build a predictive model?
  • Selection of data sets (30%)
    1. Are the data sets appropriate for developing the predictive model?
    2. Can the data set(s) be used to predict the selected properties of interest?

All reviewers are required to read and acknowledge acceptance of FFAR’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Non-Disclosure Agreement. We make reasonable efforts to ensure that applications are not assigned to reviewers with a real or apparent conflict with the applicant or project personnel. Reviewers with a conflict of interest are recused from evaluating or participating in the discussions of applications with which they have a conflict. Each stage of the review is conducted confidentially.

What are the Challenge - Predictive Model Development and Validation - submission requirements?

All individuals from organizations worldwide that wish to apply for the Challenge, including those that did not participate or were not awarded a seed grant, are required to submit a validated prediction model that predicts a subset of the functionalities outlined above. The application will include: 

  • Clear description of which functionality(-ies) is/are being considered. 
  • A description of the predictive model, candidate variables, and all source code.
  • Documentation of tool validation through prediction of one (1) known crop and three (3) underutilized crops chosen by the applicant, which have not been used previously as commercial sources of functional and/or nutritional ingredients. Documentation should list measurements for validation in a range of conditions/products, including the methods used to verify those measurements, and testing the functionality of the ingredient(s) in a food product.
  • A prioritized and justified list of 10–15 predicted crops that have the market potential for commercial development.
  • Submit a narrated PowerPoint presentation (up to 3 minutes) on the proposed predictive model.

More details on the Challenge application will be provided after seed grants have been awarded in Fall 2022. 

Challenge Review Criteria

The $1 million will be awarded based on the predictive capability of the model and the outcome of the external peer review conducted by an external expert panel representing industry and academia. Demonstration of the predictive capability will be based on measurements provided by the applicant that highly suggest the potential of the ingredient as a source of functional property of interest and are confirmed through the validation process.

Important Note: The Challenge will open to receive full applications after the Seed Funding is completed. The Challenge application review criteria will be announced when it opens for submission around spring 2023.

What can I apply for now?

Seed funding of up to $75,000 to develop a predictive model of underutilized crops. The submission portal for the predictive model development and validation will open in the spring of 2023.

Do I have to apply for or receive seed funding to be eligible for the $1 million Challenge?

Contestants do not need to participate in Seed Funding to participate in the Challenge or potentially receive $1 million.

How many people will receive seed funding?

Up to five Seed Funding awards will be made.

Can I apply if I’m not based in the United States?

Yes! All applications must be submitted in English and all award payments will be disbursed in US dollars, but any institution around the globe may apply.

Can I apply if I represent a for-profit company or startup?

Yes! For-profit institutions may apply to the opportunity.

How do I know if a crop I am considering using as a data input is underutilized?

Underutilized crops are mostly wild or semi-domesticated species adapted to local environments. These crops were used as traditional foods for centuries but became increasingly neglected when more productive crops became available in farming systems. Agricultural modernization, widespread monoculture, and the promotion of high-yielding varieties have marginalized these crops, which play a minor role in current farming and food systems.

Do I need to cover all Important Measurements for Ingredients with Different Functional Properties from a given category, or just some?

No, measurements important to demonstrate the functionality of an ingredient source are needed.

Do I need to cover all categories of Functional Properties with my model?

No.

Will preference be given to models which cover certain Functional Properties or combinations of Functional Properties?

Preference will be given to models that accurately predict a functional or a combination of functional properties.

Can the prioritized list in the proposal for the Breakthrough Challenge include the four crops used for validation?

Yes.

Will preference be given to validation which includes certain underutilized crops/types of underutilized crops (i.e. annual vs perennial, or found in one area of the world)?

There are no limitations on location or type of underutilized crop.

Can an applicant institution negotiate the terms and conditions regarding Intellectual Property?

Yes.

How do I apply?

To submit concepts, applicant(s) must submit an online application using FFAR’S Grant Management System.

Whom do I contact for further information or help?

All Scientific and Grants questions must be emailed to grants@foundationfar.org

FFAR only accepts scientific, programmatic, and grants inquiries by email. We strive to respond to inquiries within two business days, but our response time depends on the volume of questions FFAR receives and the complexity of the questions asked. Please note that we do not monitor this mailbox on evenings, weekends, or federal holidays.

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