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NSERC announces its new strategic target areas

The Council appears to have shifted its funding focus as food and agriculture aren’t listed as one of the areas


The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced the new strategic target areas on which it will focus its funding.

And it seems food and agriculture have not been made a top priority.

NSERC says the new target areas align with the priorities of the Government of Canada’s science and technology (S&T) strategy in Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage. They also align with the sub-priorities identified by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council; and areas identified in Budget 2008 as priorities.

NSERC’s role in Canada is to invest in university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. It also funds more than 11,000 university professors every year. And it encourages about 1,500 Canadian companies to invest in university research and training.

Over the last 10 years, NSERC says it has invested more than $7 billion in basic research, university-industry projects, and the training of Canada’s next generation of scientists and engineers.

For the 2011-2015 period, NSERC says its strategic partnerships programs will include the following four target areas:

• Environmental Sciences and Technologies;
• Information and Communication Technologies;
• Manufacturing; and
• Natural Resources and Energy.

These new target areas will result in an anticipated investment in excess of $200 million.

NSERC says that many agricultural-related topics still fall within the four priorities, reports a story in the Globe and Mail, and that “food-related research, despite not being listed as a target area, continues to be a priority for NSERC funding.”

In a statement, Tony Clement, minister of Industry explained: “The strategic programs are designed to increase research in areas of science and engineering that are important to Canada’s economic development.

“The new alignment of target areas and research topics for the 2011-2015 competitions of the Strategic Project Grants and Strategic Network Grants programs are a result of extensive consultation and analysis with Canada’s research and user communities.”

Editor’s note: A response to this story:

I would like to respond to your January 13 article, NSERC announces its new strategic target areas, by providing additional information about the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) continued support for food and agriculture research in Canada.

NSERC has a strong history of promoting food and agricultural research. Across all programs, it funded a total of $45.7 million in food and agriculture research in 2009-10. Assuming the quality of the research proposals remain high, this is not expected to decrease in the future.

Agricultural-related research has long been an area of focus and, although it has recently been folded into larger priority areas, it continues to be funded. Researchers in food and agriculture continue to have access to our Strategic Project Grants and Strategic Network Grants programs.

As part of these programs, funding is available for projects such as water use and treatment in the agriculture and food industry; crop development for fuel; applications of information and communications technologies in agriculture or food manufacturing; and manufacturing efficiencies in the food industry. In addition, there are new opportunities for funding in agricultural research related to food sciences and its impact on human health under the expanded Collaborative Health Research Projects Program.

Food and agriculture research will continue to remain a high priority for NSERC, and for Canada, as we move forward.

Janet Walden
Vice-President, Research Partnerships Programs Directorate
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada