“At a time when the world faces a potential rise in food insecurity from the coronavirus crisis, with vulnerable parts of the developing world, particularly in Africa, most at risk, the new scientific insights and techniques being developed by research teams around the world are more significant than ever,” said Sunny Verghese, co-founder and group chief executive officer of Olam. “The Olam Prize aims to support breakthrough innovations so that together we can re-imagine agriculture for greater food security.”

Olam International and the Agropolis Foundation is offering a $75,000 grant for scientific research that can provide positive change within global agriculture.

The grant will support the development and implementation of food security innovation.

The Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security requires clear evidence of potential short-term impact on food availability, affordability, adequacy and accessibility. The fourth edition of the biennial prize follows the recent warning from the UN World Food Programme that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will double the number of people suffering acute hunger by the end of 2020, bringing food security firmly into the world’s spotlight.

The previous prize winner, Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli of Wageningen Environmental Research and Dr Elias Eyasu Fantahun of Addis Ababa University, created Innovation Mapping for Food Security (IM4FS). It supports Ethiopia’s REALISE program to give smallholder farmers a “best fit” for what to grow, where and how, with the goal of improving productivity in food-insecure areas.

“The funding from the Olam prize has allowed us to start scaling up our approach and shift our focus from areas of high potential agriculture to the food insecure and drought-prone regions of Ethiopia,” Ceccarelli said. “Specifically, the funding is being applied to four key areas: engaging local and regional planners, in-situ data collection on biophysical and socio-economic conditions, developing the GIS-based tool behind IM4FS, and application of site-specific crop recommendations based on the research fed into and information generated by the tool.

“With the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19, we’re also reviewing with our partners how IM4FS can support more immediate and urgent food security needs for farmers amid the pandemic. This would include planning efficient seed, fertilizer and other input distribution to farmers based on needs assessments.”

Another Olam prize winner has been able to expand their project to cultivate heat-resistant wheat.

The 2017 Olam prize winner, Dr. Filippo Bassi of ICARDA, has been able to establish heat-tolerant wheat varieties in Senegal and Mauritania and has been successfully cultivated for the first time by farmers in Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and the Republic of the Gambia.

“Despite extreme weather events Africa, and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, I am happy to say that the activities enabled by the Olam Prize are advancing at full steam,” Bassi said. “Olam’s mill in Dakar is leading a partnership with other local millers to provide an ideal market for farmers to sell their new grain and with the expansion of heat-tolerant wheat now included as a strategic approach in the Adaptation of African Agriculture (a joint initiative by African Ministries of Agriculture), we can reach many more farmers.”

Not only did funding help progress Bassi’s wheat developments but also the promotion about his project extended its reach.

“Indeed, the Olam prize, and the communication campaign that followed, has truly helped promote the use of this technology and get farmers interested,” Bassi said. “Since the initial press release, ICARDA has been contacted almost weekly to provide seeds to different farmers and scientific organizations around the globe. The true power of the Olam prize goes well beyond personal recognition to really help people learn and deploy new progressive ideas for sustainable agriculture.”

Olam is accepting applications from academic or research institutions, civil societies, and the private sector, and can focus on any region, environment, crop or part of the agricultural supply chain.

The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2021, and applications received before Nov. 20, 2020, will be considered for publicity opportunities on Olam’s corporate channels.