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Friedman School wins $15 million for nutrition programs in Asia, Africa

Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 06:10

Nutrition

Courtesy Tufts Photography

Friedman School Dean Eileen Kennedy said the school’s strong history working with the U.S. Agency for International Development contributed to its winning $15 million for new food security projects.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) this month granted Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy two awards totaling $15 million to establish research programs in agriculture, health and nutrition in Asia and Africa.

The Leader with Associates Award establishes Tufts as the principal organizer for two new nutrition Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSP) in Africa and Asia. This marks the first nutrition CRSP that USAID has awarded in 25 years.

The Friedman School will lead a group of U.S.-based institutions and partners in Africa and Asia to implement two five-year programs.

"We want to bridge health, agriculture and nutrition to change the definition of well-being," Friedman School Professor of Food Policy and Applied Nutrition William Masters, who will lead the CRSP in Africa, said.

Among the partnering institutions are Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Harvard University's School of Public Health, Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics and Tuskegee University's College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences.

USAID chose the Friedman School to lead the two CRSPs in part due to its successful contributions to the U.S. government and its proven ability to deliver with other USAID initiatives, according to Masters.

"We have established a relationship with USAID that has contributed to U.S. policy-making for over 20 years. Friedman has seen its mission as informing nutrition policy in the U.S. and elsewhere and has [done] that with increasing success," Masters said. "The number and quality of nutrition-related researchers and research projects here is second to none."

Friedman School Dean Eileen Kennedy noted Tufts' positive reputation as a determining factor in the decision to award the school $15 million.

"The reputation of not only Friedman but Tufts University in general played a role," Kennedy said. "We have a 30-year track record in developing countries working in food security and 30 years' experience of faculty working shoulder-to-shoulder with USAID."

CRSPs are funded through USAID with the goal of providing long-term solutions to food security issues in developing countries through collaborative research. They are traditionally awarded to American universities that receive significant federal funding, Masters said, making the Friedman School one of the first private institutions to receive such an award.

The CRSP grants will financially support the federal Feed the Future Initiative, established in May to encourage new health and agriculture strategies aimed at improving nutrition in developing countries.

"This is a global push by the U.S. to link agriculture, health and nutrition in order to integrate them so they support each other more than in the past," Friedman School Academic Dean Patrick Webb, who will lead the CRSP Asia program, said.

The previous nutrition CRSP ended 25 years ago, in part due to the foreign aid community's belief that nutrition and agriculture did not deserve immediate attention in developing countries, according to Masters. Nutrition came back on the agenda, Webb said, during the 2007-2008 global food crisis, in which global food prices rose on average 43 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

"The new CRSP program reflects a new commitment to food security and nutrition," Webb said.

Masters noted the importance of collaborating with local institutions in Africa and Asia, rather than imposing a specific U.S. policy.

"We are coming with a toolkit, not with a blueprint," Masters said. "We want to bring our skills and ability to address issues being faced by our partner countries and engage in dialogue with researchers already working there in order to add our toolkit to theirs."

By identifying partners such as local universities, think tanks, research institutions and policy analysts, they will develop a set of best practices in regards to food security that local institutions can use in the future, Webb said.

"In the short term, we will develop successful programs, but in the long run, we want to build the capacity for local programs to address problems of food security in their region," Webb said.

The Friedman School expects to identify the two countries — one in Africa and one in Asia, — it will begin working in within the next four to six weeks, according to Kennedy. They will choose from a list of 20 focus countries identified by the Feed the Future Initiative, she said.

Kennedy also noted that although these are only five-year programs, these initiatives could stay active for much longer through "buy-in" funding. The $15 million represents core funding, but any interested country or donor could add to that sum in order to take part in the initiative, making it likely that resources will exceed $15 million, according to Webb.

Webb and Kennedy pointed out that the CRSPs bring the potential for large scale Tufts-wide collaboration, identifying the Masters of Public Health program at the Tufts School of Medicine, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Engineering as likely collaborators.

"This is very exciting but also a challenging activity," Webb said. "This is not something Tufts has been engaged with in the past. We are looking forward to lot of collaboration, but it will be a lot of work and is daunting at the same time."

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