Top view of river between cropland Top view of river between cropland

FFAR & WUR Launch Nature-Based Future Challenge


Climate change, loss of biodiversity and food insecurity are threats to the global food supply that require pioneering, science-based solutions. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and the University Fund Wageningen are partnering to launch the Nature-based Future Student Challenges program (the Challenges) as part of FFAR’s Scientific Workforce Development initiative and in support of FFAR’s Urban Food Systems challenge area. The Challenges aim to mitigate climate change effects in delta regions, which are critical for food production. FFAR is providing $255,000 in grant funding, with matching funding from Wageningen University for a total $689,190 investment.

Deltas play a major role in global water safety, water and food security and sustainable economic development. Nature-based solutions can provide approaches to mitigate climate change, restore biodiversity and enhance food security. John Reich, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Director
Bolstering Healthy Food Systems

Deltas are coastal wetland regions with fragile ecosystems that are particularly susceptible to severe weather events. These areas are known for fertile soils, vast coastal agricultural land and ecosystems that provide important habitats for many plant, animal and fish species. These properties make deltas some of the world’s major food production areas, contributing to food supplies and providing livelihoods for local communities. Deltas are also densely populated regions. These areas are home to over half a billion people, yet only make up one percent of the total area of land worldwide. As such, these dueling factors can result in competing land claims, unstable food production, risk to biodiversity hotspots, contaminated water and stress on the natural environment.

Nature-based solutions leverage the functions of ecosystems to benefit society and address environmental and public health issues such as climate change and flood risk. These solutions often encompass concepts such as ecosystem services, natural capital and blue-green infrastructure. An example of a nature-based solution is creating green roofs and walls in cities to help moderate the impacts of heatwaves and pollution and retain storm waters—green infrastructure examples like these leverage the natural ability of plants and soil to absorb heat energy and filter pollutants.

WUR aims to prepare the next generation of leaders to harness the potential of nature-based solutions through three editions of the Challenges, two that focus specifically on deltas in Bangladesh and the Mississippi Delta regions, and one that focuses on localized areas throughout Africa. The Challenges aim to inspire future leaders to develop concrete pathways and concepts that will move society towards nature-inclusive practices by designing and visualizing a nature-based future that is people-centric and place-based.

The Nature-based Future Student Challenges are engaging stakeholders and students to visualize a nature-based future and pathways of implementation. Students will develop maps that illustrate the nature-based, food-secure and biodiversity-positive future for one of the selected locations and surrounding landscapes, including a supportive narrative that substantiates the nature-based future and shows anticipated and potential impacts in the next five to ten years.

“FFAR’s contribution enables us to create the optimal context to empower a new generation of changemakers,” said Rio Pals, Manager Student Challenges WUR. “The Challenges provide inspiration and transformative pathways for decision-makers and a hopeful perspective for future generations. This is a powerful push to speed up the transition towards a nature-positive future.”

As a partner in the Challenges, FFAR will leverage its network to build scientific and community leadership in U.S. universities, specifically within the Mississippi Delta Region, connecting U.S. students and stakeholders to a global network of mentors and the nature-based solutions community. The University Fund Wageningen acted as a financial intermediary as the Challenges connect to the fund’s aim to bring together people, funds and ideas to foster talent development and innovative research at WUR.

The Challenges will run from 2023 through 2026. For more information about the Challenges, upcoming events and the open application details, visit the WUR Nature-based Futures Challenges page.


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.