LONDON, ENGLAND and SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Feb. 27 a coordinated effort to reduce hunger and poverty in developing countries by supporting agricultural research projects to help small farmers increase their yields and incomes.

DFID will contribute $32 over the next five years to the partnership, and the foundation will provide $70 million. DFID and the foundation will work together to identify the projects, and the foundation's Agricultural Development initiative will manage them.

The collaboration will focus on dealing with the most serious threats to food production in the developing world — such as crop diseases, pests, poor soil quality, and extreme weather — and tackle these threats from multiple angles to develop long-term, sustainable solutions.

"For many of the poorest people in Africa and Southern Asia, the crops they grow not only provide most of their food but also an important source of income. It's these people who are hit hardest by food price spikes," said the UK's International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell. "Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we can drive new ways to make direct improvements in people's lives, whether by making disease-resistant crops more widely available so that small-scale farmers can grow and sell more, or by developing crops with added nutritional benefits that will give their families a better diet."

This co-funding partnership comes as escalating food prices are putting millions at risk of hunger and malnutrition and threatening economic and social stability throughout the world. In January, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's price index hit an all-time high, with prices for everything from rice to maize to sugar to meat surpassing 2008 levels.

"We applaud DFID for taking a leadership role in supporting agricultural research," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We hope other governments in both the developed and developing world and donors will follow the U.K.'s lead and increase investments to provide small-scale farmers with the tools they need to improve their yields so they can feed their families and overcome poverty."

Through this new collaboration, Cornell University is receiving $40 million to continue its work to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to emerging strains of stem rust disease, such as Ug99, which are spreading out of East Africa and threatening the world's wheat supply. Because wheat represents approximately 30% of the world's production of grain crops and nearly half of that production will be harvested in developing countries, protecting wheat supplies is critical to global food security.

A second grant of $3 million was awarded to Diagnostics for All (DFA). DFA will develop inexpensive diagnostic tests that small farmers can use to improve the quantity and quality of milk produced by their cows and the safety of cereal grains. The new tests, which will cost only pennies, will check for bovine pregnancy, milk quality and a common toxin found in grain.