Pretoria – At the recent FBIP Proposal Writing Workshop, facilitator, Prof Michelle Hamer told prospective funding applicants that the workshop was part of a drive to improve the quality of proposals so that funds could be allocated in a way that delivered on the programme’s commitments.

The Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) aims to make an impact in the sphere of biodiversity ‘knowledge generation’ and the ‘mobilisation’ of existing data.

Knowledge generation involves the discovery, description, and identification of taxa, surveys of areas or taxa of strategic importance (i.e. occurrence data and/or population abundance data, and also the production of phylogenetic or population genetic diversity including DNA barcodes which enable distinction and identification of taxa).

For the mobilisation of existing data; this includes data capture or digitisation of specimen data and also compiling species information according to the Encyclopaedia of Life requirements (EOL).

Hamer said the programme has had problems allocating all its budget despite getting many proposals. She said projects were not always in scope or they did not address the specific needs of the FBIP.

The workshop was attended by 55 participants from 25 institutions with 47% (26) being emerging researchers.

The event took place online and included interactive presentations by Prof Hamer with Q&A and included group exercises where participants were divided into breakout rooms. In one of the exercises respective groups had to come up with a winning proposal. In another participants had to score projects (provided) on their feasibility.

Below are video recordings of the Workshop in three parts with Q&A

You are welcome to download the PDF presentation HERE

Workshop part 1

  • Background: FBIP funding, aim, scope
  • Requirements for projects (Small and Large Grants)

Purpose of the workshop

  • To provide guidance for FBIP proposals.
  • We hope that the guidance will also be useful for proposals beyond FBIP.

From the FBIP’s perpective:

  • We want to improve the quality of proposals so that we can allocate all funds available in a way that delivers on the programme’s commitments.
  • There is also a need to ensure that grants are spread across researchers, institutions, age groups, races and genders.
FBIP grants awarded

Since the FBIP started awarding grants in 2013 it has received approximately 491 applications and has since funded 156 projects, representing a 32% success rate. In 2017, 72 proposals were received, with 23 receiving funding. In 2018,19 out of 65 were awarded. In 2019, 9 out of 22. In 2019 the NRF introduced the new “one call” process which led to a significant drop in proposals. In 2020 the FBIP had two funding rounds with 60 proposals received and 19 projects receiving funding. The FBIP receives most of its applications from three institutions namely; the ARC, Stellenbosch University, and the University of Pretoria. In addition, museums have a relatively high success rate, at about 50%.

M. Hamer


  • The intention of the FBIP is to generate, manage and disseminate appropriate foundational biodiversity information as the basis for research which can catalyse the bio-economy, and for decision making which will promote human well being.
  • Overall themes: global change and the bio-economy (green economy)
  • Large grants : 3 years, R500 000 – R1.5 million/year (concept, if successful, full proposal developed) (1 or 2 each year).
  • Small grants : 2 years, R250 000 total (about 20 can be funded/year)

Scope of FBIP: what is covered

Knowledge generation

• Discovery, description, and identification of taxa,
• Surveys of areas or taxa of strategic importance (species occurrence) and/or population abundance
• Phylogenetic and population genetic diversity, including DNA barcodes, which enable the distinction
and identification of taxa.

Mobilisation of existing data

• Data capture/digitization of specimen data according to the Darwin core Standard for biodiversity collections
• Compilation of species information according to the FBIP/EoL (Encyclopedia of Life) requirements.

But there are more specifications…

FBIP targets – why programme was established and what we report on

All projects must produce and submit:
Occurrence records (species name, collection locality, date of collection, may also be number of individuals)
DNA barcodes , according to IBOL standard, submitted to the Barcode of Live Data System (BOLD) as part of the barcode reference library
Species pages: consolidated information about species (images, description, biology)

For the current (2021) call the Large Grant Projects have to fit into one of seven themes:

  • Multi-taxa surveys where the geographic area is very clearly identified and where the area may be threatened by large scale development or an area of which little is known and it’s not included in spatial plans.
  • Surveys of the biodiversity of a particular habitat or biome that is neglected and very important for ecosystem services. It must be over a wide geographic area. These include aspects like soil habitats, wetlands or urban environments which are important systems. 
  • Crop wild relatives. This is the taxonomy and distribution of crop wild relatives in South Africa.
  • Crops and livestock pests, parasites, and disease vectors focusing on indigenous taxa – documenting and describing what these are, understanding their distribution and changes in distribution.
  • A focus on human health – vectors of disease parasites, pathogens and allogens. Documenting the diversity and looking at changes in distribution and predicting future spread.
  • Cultural significance of biodiversity. So this is something that has been quite neglected from the biodiversity side. Looking at the different cultural values of biodiversity.
  • Taxonomic revisions of priority South African taxa. For this theme there might be a big group that needs a lot of taxonomic work which could take many years. Here the FBIP encourages a big team to invest all its time (using e.g. R4.5 million funding) to sort it out quickly and efficiently. However, it must be a group that is economically or ecologically important. An example would be the Mesembs (or family Aizoaceae), which has very high endemism with lots of taxonomic problems which could ordinarily take 20-30 years to sort out.

Small projects

Small projects do not have to fit into one of the above themes, but they have to fit into the broader themes of the bio-economy or global change. In addition they are not just any projects that have some relevance to bio-economy or global change, they must be strategic projects. They must produce data or knowledge that is needed by someone and they must produce at least one of the target outputs (i.e. barcodes, occurrence data, or species pages). The more that is produced, the better. 

Q&A for part 1

Workshop part 2

  • Why do projects fail: scope, outputs, impact
  • Group exercise – design a winning project 

Why do projects fail?

High number of unsuccessful proposals:

  • Not because of a lack of funding, but because of quality of proposals,
  • Or proposals that fail on one of the scoring criteria, even though they are good proposals/projects.

Biodiversity value chain

biodiversity value chain

Our research is often at the bottom of the value chain. We do biodiversity surveys and we describe biodiversity producing things like an inventories of species, keys, barcodes and databases of species in space and time. This is our outputs but they are used in spatial planning, monitoring, global change, understanding mitigation, and for accurately identifying species for health or agriculture, indicators, or as food. And if we’ve got all of those things, then we can manage our natural assets and provide goods and services and we can mitigate climate change or global change, and that leads to the wellbeing of people. So, although what you do might be right at the bottom, you need to say what you’re going to produce and how it will feed into one of these uses. Even if you’re not going to do it all, join the dots all the way up to the wellbeing of people. This is quite a challenge. Some projects actually do all the way up to the wellbeing of people – they do it themselves. And others link with other projects or link with people who are doing the rest. 

M. Hamer

Workshop part 3

  • Why projects fail: feasibility
  • Group exercise – assess workplan and budgets for two proposals
  • Review of key points, questions, comments

Why proposals fail: feasibility – lack of details about activities

  • Careful planning is essential
  • Field work: Where? How many sites? How many samples? What method? When?
  • Sample sorting, preparation, data capture, analysis, compiling species pages or uploading data to BOLD? When? How long will it take? Who?
  • Using existing specimens in collections how many are there? How long will it take to examine/measure/image them?
  • Capacity who will be doing the work? (students – how many?)
  • Expertise if you plan a survey, who will identify the specimens accurately to species level?
  • Equipment and lab facilities. If you are doing sequencing where will this be done? Who will do it?

Why proposals fail: feasibility – permitting

Have you thought about what permits will be needed? Have you included this in planning, with realistic time frames?

  • Collecting permits, land owner permission, register project if in a protected area.
  • Working with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) material or ToPS (Threatened or Protected Species) material need to have a permit even just to work with the material (institution must be registered and have a standing permit)
  • Sending samples out of South Africa need a BABS (Biodiversity Access and Benefit Sharing) permit, MTA (Material Transfer Agreement), benefit sharing agreement – who is going to own the Intellectual Property and what are the benefits of sharing.
  • Receiving samples from outside South Africa – import permit needed.
  • Collecting animals, parasites, vectors, and pathogens – need a Section 20 permit for Animal Disease Act.

Why proposals fail: feasibility – ethics

  • Ethical clearance from institution
  • Anything to do with human subjects questionnaires, indigenous knowledge – prior informed consent, ethical clearance
  • Have you considered impact on the environment or the population you will be sampling?
  • Are you planning to work in community areas? How will you engage with local people about your research? How will you identify private land owners to get permission?
  • If you are proposing to digitise another institution’s collections will they allow you to make the data available to the FBIP? (third party agreement)
  • Will your institution allow you to make the data available? Or are there likely to be restrictions (e.g. potential patents, registration of products).
  • Are you willing to release your data? If not think carefully before applying for FBIP funding. A limited embargo period is allowed.

Why proposals fail: feasibility – budget

  • Budget cannot go over the upper limit set by FBIP.
  • Details must be provided in the budget. How many samples will be sequenced? What is the cost per sequence and for what type of analysis and by who? Travel details from where to where, how many kilometers, cost per kilometer and total. Accommodation – how many people, how many nights and at what rate? Subsistence – include rate/days/person for field work. Keep this low to cover basic needs.
  • Equipment can be included in budget but provide a motivation. If you work in a laboratory or museum and want a microscope – say why it is needed – why can’t you share/access an existing microscope?

Key points

  • Lots of requirements but necessary to ensure that the type of work we do continues to be funded.
  • It is the way the world and South Africa is going with the requirement to justify your research because it is paid for by tax payers. It should serve society.
  • There are other NRF funding programmes for more academic research but very competitive.
  • Read the FBIP Framework Document, the information needed for the 2021 call is there.

Workshop feedback from participants…

Thanks so much, Lita and Michelle, that was really helpful.

Colleen Seymour

Thank you Michelle and team, its was very informative.

Dewidine Van der Colff

Thank you – this was excellent and much appreciated.

Gavin Rishworth

Thank you organisers and presenter, very valuable.


Thank you so much for a very well presented, interactive and informative workshop.

Nicola Collins

[Workshop end]