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USDA Releases Request for Applications for AFRI Competitive Grants

March 26, 2010

This week, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (formerly, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service) released the long-anticipated 2010 Request for Applications (RFAs) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  Significantly overhauled and with more funding to award than ever, the AFRI RFAs define a substantive portion of USDA’s research agenda, and by extension, the agricultural system the agency envisions for the future.  For 2010, $262 million is available through AFRI, $61 million more than last year.  No less than 30 percent of this will fund integrated projects that have research, education, and extension components.

There are six AFRI RFAs:  one Foundational Program RFA and five RFAs targeted at addressing five “challenge” areas.  The RFAs support a variety of project sizes and types.  The five RFAs in the challenge areas include funding for large, multi-disciplinary, multi-million dollar projects called Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs) that are broad in scope.  There will be a seventh RFA supporting pre- and post-doctoral fellowships that has not yet been released.

  • Foundational Program

The Foundational Program RFA (pdf) makes $64 million available to fund  research-only projects in program areas that existed in the previous iteration of AFRI and that correspond to congressionally-designated priorities written into the the farm bill.  These programs previously received the bulk of the program funding, so many of the earlier programs that evolved over the past several decades have now been ended as separate priorities, given the decrease in dollars available.  One of those was the Managed Ecosystem program that NSAC has backed for many years, though aspects of that program can now be found in some of the challenge area RFAs.

The new RFA collapses the long-standing Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms program and the long-standing Rural Development program into a single combined program, and creates the Economics of Market and Development program from the Agribusiness Markets and Trade program in previous RFAs.  Despite the overall $61 million increase in AFRI for this fiscal year, the total funding for these three, now two programs, remained static at $10 million.  Also, despite 2008 Farm Bill language adding rural entrepreneurship as a designated priority, not only was it not added as a new extension and applied research program, but the ongoing farms and rural development programs were melded into a single offering.  Still, however, there are exciting opportunities in these areas, and we were particularly pleased with the requested topics for Small and Medium Sized Farms research.

It is unfortunate that the programs that include farm, rural and marketing development priorities in this RFA are limited to non-integrated research-only grants, ultimately limiting the ability of that research to reach people who would benefit from it and the ability of researchers to learn from the user community.  We hope that the option for integrated projects returns next year.

  • Climate Change

The Climate Change RFA (pdf) makes $55 million available to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that seek to reduce agricultural use of energy, nitrogen, and water, and that increase carbon sequestration.  The RFA includes funding for a Regional Integrated CAP that addresses mitigation, adaptation, education, and outreach goals in a region, as well as a CAP supporting research and education activities by conventional breeders to develop new varieties adapted to changing climates.  The latter was a clear result of work supported by NSAC and many member and partner organizations and researchers to obtain farm bill language to make improved support for classical plant and animal breeding an AFRI priority.

  • Bioenergy

The Bioenergy RFA (pdf) makes $40 million available to fund Regional Bioenergy CAPs and research grants to help meet the goal of 36 billion gallons/year of biofuels by 2022.  The Regional Bioenergy CAPs will support the development of regional systems of bioenergy production that reduce dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are integrated with current agricultural systems.

  • Global Food Security

The Global Food Security RFA (pdf) makes $19 million available to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that improve food availability and food accessibility, focusing on research that addresses production challenges and that supports the development of sustainable food systems.  Of particular note is an integrated project that supports the development of local and regional food systems that will increase food security in disadvantaged U.S. communities and create viable local economies.

  • Food Safety

The Food Safety RFA (pdf) makes $20 million available to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that seek to improve food safety through the development and implementation of detection technologies, traceability systems, and other strategies, and through increasing the number of food safety scientists.  The RFA focuses on particular pathogens and viruses, and includes research on multiple scales of production and processing.

  • Childhood Obesity

The Childhood Obesity RFA (pdf) makes $25 million available to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that contribute to reducing the prevalence of obesity among children and teens.  The RFA seeks to fund proposals that generate new knowledge, develop effective behavioral and environmental interventions, bring to scale effective interventions and assess their impacts, and increase the number of researchers, educators, and practitioners trained to address the problem of obesity.

While “sustainability” is used throughout the RFAs, the verdict on whether AFRI funds projects that actively contribute to the development of sustainable agricultural and food systems will be made once grants are awarded.

To view a chart of programs and proposal deadlines, click here.

To view a webcast about AFRI, click here.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development

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