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Sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of a £9.5 million nature-based climate solutions call

The Global Challenges Research Fund may have been put to bed, but thankfully support for Official Development Assistance-linked research continues at the national funder UK Research and Innovation. 

In one of the largest calls since the demise of the GCRF, UKRI is working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to deliver total funding of up to £9.5 million. 

The call is for researchers in the UK to partner with peers and partner organisations in sub-Saharan Africa to address the context-relevance and scalability of nature-based climate solutions. Projects should have a full economic cost of between £1m and £2.25m, with UK components funded at 80 per cent of full economic cost and certain international partner costs at 100 per cent.

All applicants must submit a notification of intent by 27 July, with full applications due by 13 September. Sarah Blackburn, head of international at UKRI’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), gives the lowdown on a high-priority call. 

How did the call come about?

A high-level concept was originally conceived towards the end of the GCRF and we had been waiting for an opening to develop it. More recently, UKRI set out its strategic themes, which provided that opportunity for us to seek funding under the ‘building a green future’ and ‘building a secure and resilient world’ themes.

Can you give a brief outline of the call and its aims?

Nature-based solutions are often sold as solutions to both climate change and the biodiversity crisis, but there is a need for greater understanding. We need to learn which contexts different solutions are best suited to, where there is potential for scale-up, and the potential impacts. One important theme here is around community-driven approaches and governance. If we want nature-based solutions and their impacts to be equitable and sustainable, they really need to be driven bottom-up by the needs of local communities, with local knowledge integrated into the research from the outset.

How many projects do you expect to fund?

We are looking to support four projects, which should leave some money for post-award programme management, for example grantholder workshops.

What do you expect in the notification of intent?

We’re asking for a high-level summary of the research project and the key project partners that have already been secured. This is a mandatory step that helps us prepare for the assessment process. There is still plenty of scope for applicants to bring in extra partners or adjust their research questions between this stage and the full application.

What disciplines should be involved?

We’re not giving a steer around discipline. Applicants should consider the research challenge and build a team that is best suited to address research questions that fit the scope. NERC is leading the delivery of the programme and we do expect there to be a strong environmental science component. But it’s vital that we bring in other disciplines to consider the impacts of nature-based solutions in a holistic way. Projects can in fact be led by a discipline outside NERC’s remit, provided they meet the challenges set out in the call.

What should applicants know about Official Development Assistance guidelines?

The crucial parts are the ODA statement and the gender equality statement, which are both mandatory. In terms of the ODA statement, it’s about the development challenge your project will address. Is your project best suited to addressing that challenge? What is it that your project will do to make a difference? Is there a clear route to delivering real-world impact? The involvement of in-country research teams is crucial to delivering this impact.

For the gender equality statement, it’s about taking a proportionate approach. Think broadly about new ways in which you could approach the equality, diversity and inclusion element of your project design—not just in terms of who is involved in your project team but how the end users or beneficiaries are going to be impacted.

What potential missteps should applicants avoid?

Do not try to shoehorn a tenuously related research project into this call because it’s got a broad scope. If you feel your proposal is a little tangential, it’s probably not worth submitting as the call will be very competitive. 

Similarly, people may be tempted to put forward a proposal in their own area of research interest, with other disciplines tagged on. But we want genuine interdisciplinary proposals that have been worked up across disciplines.


A further mistake would be failing to demonstrate why the research is important for development. Often, applicants will discuss how important their academic findings will be for their field, which is good, but this is an impact-oriented programme. Projects need to primarily aim to address development issues and have socioeconomic impact in sub-Saharan Africa. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com