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News Release 13-128

'BREAD Ideas Challenge' Winners Announced: Each Receives $10,000 Prize

Researchers in the agricultural sciences were asked to identify pressing issues facing small-holder farms in the developing world; winners range from graduate students to faculty in the United States and Africa

Photo of a peanut farm

Winning challenges cover BREAD research topics from new crops to cattle artificial insemination.

July 16, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the 13 winners of the $10,000 BREAD Ideas Challenge.

The challenge, part of the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program and co-funded by NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asked participants from around the world to describe, in 100 words or fewer, the most pressing, novel issues facing small-holder farms--farms typically the size of a football field or smaller--in developing countries.

Challenge winners will receive $10,000 each and have their ideas showcased on the BREAD Ideas Challenge website. BREAD program officers anticipate the winning challenges will prompt new research and collaborations for the BREAD program's upcoming call for NSF Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals.

The winning challenges run the gamut of BREAD-relevant research. For example, Jim Ward, a geneticist at Wilmington College in Ohio, calls for the means to create new breeds of indigenous root crops. Fidalis Mujibi, a geneticist with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and George Perry, an associate professor and beef reproductive management specialist at South Dakota State University, ask if costly liquid nitrogen can be eliminated from the livestock artificial insemination process.

Challenges were selected not only because of their potential impact on small-holder farmers, but also due to their lack of previous attention. Jeff Elhai, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity at Virginia Commonwealth University, challenges the scientific community to help reduce farmer dependence on expensive fertilizers by creating a nitrogen-fixing organelle in small-holder crops.

"These prizewinning challenges range from the global to the local and across diverse disciplines," said John Wingfield, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences. "What they have in common is that they all represent topics that have not yet had the attention or funding to prompt a solution. The reality is that solving any of these challenges in a changing world would have a dramatic impact on the lives of millions of small-holder farmers around the globe."

Winners range from graduate students to faculty. Ten of the 13 winners are from U.S. universities and colleges. The remaining three winners are from Nairobi, Kenya; Arusha, Tanzania; and Entebbe, Uganda.

"Innovation in agricultural research can create new pathways out of poverty for millions of families who rely on farming for their food and income," said Rob Horsch, deputy director in the Agricultural Development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We're excited to partner with NSF and the global research community to focus innovation on the needs of small-holder farmers who are lifting themselves and their communities out of poverty."

The BREAD program used a blind judging process to score the competitors' entries. The expert judges from NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation only had access to applicants' ideas and countries of origin.

Information about BREAD and the call for EAGER proposals is available at the BREAD program website, as well as at the BREAD Ideas Challenge website, where readers can also learn about the BREAD Ideas Challenge winners and their winning challenges:

Matthew Wallenstein, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.

Challenge: Develop knowledge, methods and tools to identify drought-productive microbiomes and facilitate their use by small-holder farmers.

Andrew Waterhouse, University of California, Davis, Calif.

Challenge: Create a path toward inexpensive, low-tech techniques for small-holder farmers to monitor processing conditions and microbial populations, improving product quality and reducing post-harvest losses in preserved agricultural products.

Jim Ward, Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio

Challenge: Develop means for "root swelling" of small wild roots, leading the way to the creation of hundreds of new root crops that could improve the nutrition and incomes of developing world farmers.

Olav Rueppell, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, N.C.

Challenge: Develop knowledge and means to create or modify crops to make use of aerial nutrients, increasing small-holder farmers' yields in nutrient-deficient land while reducing their dependence on chemical fertilizers.

Robert Boyle Onzima, National Agricultural Research Organization, Entebbe, Uganda

Challenge: Devise alternate strategies for reducing the effect of GI parasites on livestock productivity.

Dongjin Kim, Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Arusha, Tanzania

Challenge: Devise a means for converting existing Striga biomass collected from infested fields into an economically useful agricultural byproduct.

Aaron Miller, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Challenge: Identify novel functions offered by gut biota that could be transplanted into small-holder farmers' domesticated livestock, reintroducing toxin tolerance and improving animal health and grazing options.

Fidalis Mujibi, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya

George Perry, South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D.

Challenge: Develop knowledge and means for a cold-chain-free artificial insemination process, making this process available to communities without infrastructure and for tropical cattle prone to silent heat.

Curtis Frederick, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.

Challenge: Develop knowledge, techniques, and local resources (e.g. reagents) to offer inexpensive soil sampling to small-holder farmers, making use of local technology (e.g. proliferation of cell phones) as well as local practices.

Olivia Wilkins, New York University, New York, N.Y.

Challenge: Develop means to manipulate microbial soil populations, creating 'tunable' soil microbiomes that could enhance plant growth under poor edaphic conditions.

Jeff Elhai, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.

Challenge: Enable the creation of a nitrogen-fixing organelle capable of functioning and persisting in small-holder crops.

Sara Thomas, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.

Challenge: Improve our understanding of the biology, epidemiology, and management of vegetative propagation and "seed degeneration" to better support small-holder farmers.


Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8485, email:

Program Contacts
Diane Jofuku Okamuro, NSF, (703) 292-4400, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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