FFAR & GAIN Announce Challenge for Screening Underutilized Crops

Washington, DC

  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

WASHINGTON (March 16, 2022) – Of the more than 50,000 known edible plant species, only three crops – rice, wheat and maize – account for two-thirds of the world’s food supply. With increasingly frequent extreme weather events, reliance on a limited number of crops puts the world’s nutritional security at risk. At the same time, many nutritious, resilient crops remain underutilized, contributing to poor dietary diversity and health outcomes. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), in partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and with funding from RF Catalytic Capital, The Rockefeller Foundation’s public charity, is launching the Harvest for Health Breakthrough Crop Challenge, offering up to $1,375,000 in awards to develop a predictive model that can screen underutilized crops to determine a crop’s usefulness as a source of functional ingredients or nutrients.

There are tens of thousands of crops that are underutilized for human consumption. Can any of them provide a triple win: good for nutrition, good for the environment and good for prosperity? The Breakthrough Crop Challenge is for those who are inspired by this challenge and can rise to it, through ingenuity and innovation. Dr. Lawrence Haddad
Executive Director, GAIN

The Breakthrough Crop Challenge is part of FFAR’s Harvest for Health initiative, which seeks to accelerate the development of underutilized crops with the aim of increasing the diversity of nutritious foods in the marketplace. While underutilized crops have great 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.

“Underutilized crops have the potential for a variety of economic benefits to food and ingredient manufacturers, and nutritional benefits to consumers,” said Lucyna Kurtyka, senior scientific program director at FFAR. “The Breakthrough Crop Challenge will provide new opportunities for farmers, appeal to more consumers, and contribute to our food system’s health and environmental sustainability.”

The Breakthrough Crop Challenge consists of two distinct parts. In the seed funding part, FFAR will award five grants of up to $75,000 per concept note that describes the development and validation of a predictive model.

Seed funding concept notes are due by July 20, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. ET. Please visit FFAR’s Harvest for Health page for more information.

For the predictive model development and validation part, 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 for the predictive model development and validation will open in the spring of 2023.

Following the Breakthrough Crop Challenge, using the winning predictive model Harvest for Health will focus on the commercial development of select crops that have market potential.

Image: Moringa, a promising underutilized crop


Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.