PRCI STAAARS Plus Proposals now due April 22

PRCI's Structural Transformation of African and Asian Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAAARS+) Fellows Program RFP


Request for Proposals

Structural Transformation of African and Asian Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAAARS+) Fellows program of the USAID Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy, Research, Capacity and Influence



The STAAARS+ Fellows program, under the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity, and Influence (PRCI), is a collaboration between Cornell University, Michigan State University (MSU), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to advance rigorous, policy-oriented food security research on topics of inclusive agricultural- and rural transformation, development of healthy food systems, and enhanced resilience at individual, household, national and regional levels in Africa and Asia. The objective is to build and reinforce an effective policy research culture within African and Asian policy research organizations that can help build and sustain research capacity beyond the life of PRCI and the STAAARS+ program. STAAARS+ is an extension of the Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Space (STAARS) Fellows program run by Cornell University since 2016, with the important differences that STAAARS+ (i) is a team-based program focused on strengthening the capacity of research organizations, rather than just individual researchers, (ii) encompasses Asia (in future rounds, not in this current round) as well as Africa, and (iii) emphasizes policy engagement beyond rigorous research and peer-reviewed publication.

STAAARS+ teams will be selected through a competitive process and paired with mentors at Cornell, IFPRI or MSU, with whom they will jointly author a paper on a topic of mutual interest that fits within the broad PRCI research priorities. STAAARS+ will support the development of research findings publishable in high quality, peer-reviewed journals; facilitate access to policy outreach networks and policy engagement materials; and support teams’ participation in scientific and policy conferences.

Scope of Research and Geographic Focus

Prospective STAAARS+ teams are invited to develop proposals in the following thematic areas. 

  1. Inclusive agricultural and rural transformation to raise rural household incomes (including small farmers), and to create more decent jobs particularly for young women and men;
  2. Development of healthy food systems, including regulatory issues and private sector engagement, in ways that address food safety and the triple burden of malnutrition; and
  3. Enhanced resilience at individual, household, national and regional levels (to climate, conflict, and other sources of shocks) to achieve economic and environmental sustainability.

STAAARS+ teams’ rigorous policy analysis should use existing, high quality data, such as the Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), Demographic and Health Surveys, or similar datasets. High quality data sets collected locally, by an applicant’s institution or other research organizations in Africa or Asia, can be proposed and will be considered based on a case-by-case assessment of data quality. Mixed methods research projects are welcome. No funding is available for new data collection nor software purchase. Teams are welcome to approach researchers within the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity, and Influence (PRCI) network for guidance on the suitability of a topic and research design for STAAARS+ support.

Program Structure

The STAAARS+ program spans 18 months from the release of the RFA to the delivery of final outputs by the STAAARS+ teams.  Selected STAAARS+ teams are matched with one or two faculty or senior research staff mentor(s) who share an interest in the proposed topic and is willing to be available extensively for the duration of the fellowship period.  Mentorship and collaboration begin immediately with a cohort launch meeting within the first month or so attended by all STAAARS+ teams, mentors and the STAAARS+ coordinators.  A period of regular remote collaboration follows, with weekly or biweekly virtual meetings, leading up to an intensive 4-week visit to the US-based host institution (Cornell, MSU or IFPRI) at which the STAAARS+ team works intensively on the research project while participating in capacity development activities customized to their self-identified specific needs as a team.  Capacity development activities may include, but are not limited to: coding and data management skills; reproducible research processes; technical writing; presentation skills; and peer-review publication processes; policy engagement skills.


This first call of four expected rounds of STAAARS+ over the next three years is open for teams of 2-3 early career African researchers currently working for policy research institutions based in sub-Saharan Africa. Future calls will likewise be open to Asian researchers working for policy research institutions based in lower and middle-income countries in Asia. Team members must be actively engaged in research, as manifest in published work within the past four years, and hold an M.S. or Ph.D., or equivalent degree, in agricultural economics, economics, geography, sociology, statistics, or a related field. Team members with PhDs should have completed their PhD no more than five years prior to the application deadline, although in exceptional cases a team of three could include one member whose PhD was awarded no more than ten years prior.  Priority is given to proposals from PRCI-affiliated institutions[1], but teams from other institutions will be considered. Teams may span multiple collaborating institutions. Qualified female researchers are particularly encouraged to apply and topics with an explicit gender dimension are of particular interest. For guidance, we recommend reviewing this presentation and attending the PRCI Gender Webinar to be held on February 6, 2020 at 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM EST. If you are unable to attend the webinar, a recording will be available shortly after the live event at the following link.

STAAARS+ teams’ home institutions must provide all STAAARS+ team members with funded time to carry out their research during the remote mentorship periods as well as during travel periods to conferences, workshops, and the mentor’s institution in the United States (US).  PRCI will provide funds for the team members’ home institutions to cover full economy class travel costs for two team members’ participation in the intensive 4-week visit to the US-based host institution and participation in the ReNAPRI conference; however, the team's own African or Asian home institution is expected to arrange travel logistics.

Logistical support from the team members’ home institution must include facilitating the visa application, purchase of plane tickets, distributing per diems and arranging accommodation at the travel destinations. The host institution (Cornell, IFPRI or MSU) can assist, but final arrangements are to be made by the home institution using the funds provided by PRCI. Team members must be fully released from other obligations for travel during the 4-week intensive collaboration visit and the 1-week policy conference during the fellowship period. Teams will be required to submit a letter of support from their institution as part of their application indicating they are willing and able to provide logistical support for travel and funded time for the STAAARS+ team to carry out their STAAARS+ research and travel throughout the fellowship period.


Addendum (14 Feb 2020): STAAARS+ teams are limited to three people. Additional coauthors or collaborators may be involved in the project, but the team members listed in the STAAARS+ application must be the primary intellectual and technical contributors. They must be prepared to liaise with STAAARS+ and PRCI on behalf of the team. Resources are not available for the collaboration visit or policy conference travel by additional coauthors or collaborators.

Application Process

The STAAARS+ fellowship application process is managed by Cornell University.  A team of 2 or 3 researchers from one or more eligible policy research institution(s) files one application. Applicants must prepare a concept proposal (maximum 2500 words), which motivates the selected research issue(s) and objectives, outlines data sources and proposed analytical methodology. The proposal must also contain a feasible and detailed division of labor, explicitly outlining the roles and responsibilities of each team member and a timeline for completing a rigorous paper ready for submission to a peer-reviewed international journal, as well as policy engagement materials based on the research, within the 18-month fellowship period. All proposals must be submitted in English. All proposals will be peer reviewed by experts from Cornell, MSU and/or IFPRI. Finalists will be expected to demonstrate adequate competence within the team in Stata and/or R statistical analysis software prior to final selection, established via a structured assessment.

The deadline to submit a concept proposal is Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 12:00 noon New York time.  Applicants should submit their completed proposal via email to Accepted applicants will be notified no later than May 15, 2020 and are expected to begin remote collaboration with their mentor immediately upon acceptance.

Proposal Template

  1. Completed 2020 STAAARS+ Fellowship Applicant Information Form
  2. Title page (not included in the 2500 word limit):
    1. Title of the proposed research
    2. Targeted country (countries)
    3. Host policy research institution(s)
  3. Concept Proposal (2500 word limit):
    1. Introduction and motivation that includes clear statement of research objectives, policy relevance, and testable hypotheses
    2. Description of data source(s) and any prior experience working with the proposed data
    3. Proposed empirical analysis methodology(ies)
    4. If applicable, summarize any preliminary results
    5. Proposed division of labor among team members
    6. Proposed timeline
  4. Bibliographic references (not included in the 2500 word limit)
  5. CVs of each individual team member (not included in the 2500 word limit)
  6. Letter of support from each team member’s home policy research institution(s), explicitly committing to provide team members with paid time to undertake the research and to cover travel costs associated with the fellowship (see above).

[1] These include all members of ReNAPRI – the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes – all centers selected under PRCI as Centers for Policy Leadership (only some of which will be current members of ReNAPRI), and an agreed set of additional centers across Africa and Asia.  Current members of ReNAPRI are Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES), Universite de Kinshasha, DRC; Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana; Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Kenya; Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources (LUANAR), Malawi; Research Center for Agriculture Policy and Agri-systems (CEPPAG), Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique; Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; School of Agriculture Economics and Business Studies (SAEBS), Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Tanzania; Department of Agribusiness and Natural Resource Economics, Makerere University, Uganda; Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Zambia; and Department of Agricultural Economics & Extension, University of Zimbabwe. Centers for Policy Leadership are the Center for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law and the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development (CPEEL-DAERD), University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), Uganda; and Bureau d’Analyses Macro-économiques (BAME) de l’Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA-BAME), Senegal.



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