To close the “AI for Humanity” day of debates held in Paris on 29 March 2018, the President of the French Republic delivered a speech on Artificial Intelligence (AI). As a continuation, a national program for AI was initiated, with a major section dedicated to research. The Villani report identifies four priority sectors posing major public-interest goals, including the environment.
France’s National Biodiversity Plan published on 4 July 2018 has the overall objective of “Reconquering biodiversity, a question of survival for our societies”. One of the plan’s actions is to develop research and knowledge about biodiversity, with goals including defining integrative indicators to quantify and map the state of biodiversity.
Knowledge about biodiversity and its evolution is both a stimulating field for applying AI research and a major scientific and societal challenge. Artificial intelligence can make significant contributions with new dedicated solutions involving complex systems that incorporate heterogeneous elements and information.
The IA-Biodiv challenge thus aims to support Artificial Intelligence research in the field of biodiversity, by mobilizing cutting-edge French research at the convergence of the French National Artificial Intelligence Research Strategy and the France’s National Biodiversity Plan. The challenge is launched by the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) in partenership with AFD (Agence Française de Développement), relying on a donation from Facebook AI Research, for a global effort of 4.8 million €.
The IA-Biodiv challenge is intended for scientific communities in AI and biodiversity in France and AFD's partner countries in Africa. International consortia will be financed by Expertise France (mandated by AFD) according to the participation modalities for international consortia.
The IA-Biodiv challenge will be led by an Operational Consortium, named COpé, which will ensure the organisation and the smooth running of the challenge. As a trusted third party, the COpé will ensure the scientific animation, the evaluation of AI systems and the constitution of data sets and their access via the "IA-BiodivNet" environment. The COpé is composed of the Laboratoire national de métrologie et d'essais (LNE), The French Foundation for Biodiversity Research (FRB) (FRB) and the Pôle national de données de biodiversité (PNDB).
This call is open to two types of consortia:
- French consortia according to the rules defined in the terms of participation for consortia applying for ANR funding. Funding of these projects will be provided by ANR. Three consortia will be funded with a maximum grant amount of €500k per project.
- consortia involving at least one of the AFD’s African partner countries according to the rules defined in the document “Terms of participation for international consortia”. Funding of these projects will be provided by Expertise France on behalf of AFD. Two consortia will be funded with a maximum grant amount of €650k per project.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
1. On which data does the challenge focus on?
The challenge presents a roadmap with defined and common data sets. The challenge focuses on Mediterranean and Pacific coastal marine environments (including the coastline). Data from other oceans/marine environments (e.g. Indian Ocean) are not part of the data provided and evaluated in this challenge. However, they can be added to the IA-BiodiNet common database and can be used by teams for their research, provided that they are made available to other participants via IA-BiodivNet.
2. Why does the challenge focus on coastal marine environments?
The study of coastal marine environments has many advantages. First, Opensource data are numerous, and they meet the needs of an evaluation of artificial intelligence systems. In addition, essential ocean variables (EOV) have strong scientific and societal impacts. The IA Biodiv challenge, through the Operational Committee (COpé), is committed to providing these data for research and evaluations to the teams. The expertise, consultation and evaluations will be based on these data only. The scientific approaches developed for the challenge must be as generic as possible and transposable to other fields of application.
3. Will the challenge be open, in a second phase, to other data than those of coastal marine environments?
The four years of the challenge will be entirely and solely devoted to data from coastal marine environments. There are no plans, for the moment, for another AI-Biodiversity challenge on other data.
The IA-BiodivNet platform is intended, in the long term, to host all research data in biodiversity.
4. Should I collect data myself during the challenge?
All datasets needed for the challenge evaluation campaigns will be provided. Data collection should not be part of the project expenses.
5. What data will be available on the platform and what contributions are expected?
The Copé will make available, on this platform, only data from coastal marine environments in the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Any contribution to the enrichment of this platform is encouraged throughout the challenge (data, tools, annotations).
6. When will the data be available?
A description of the data will be available on the challenge webpage in early summer 2021. The data, as such, will be made available to the participating teams at the beginning of the challenge (early 2022). The data will be enriched, by the Copé and the research teams, throughout the duration of the challenge.
7. Will the data be available to everyone or only to the winners of the call?
Initially, the data provided by the challenge organization will be made available to the participating teams only. It will be made available to all research communities at the end of the challenge.
8. Can I submit a project if I am not already working on the coastal marine environment?
AI teams that have not previously worked on coastal marine data are perfectly eligible and relevant, regardless of the nature of the data they are working on.
It is preferable that biodiversity research teams have experience with coastal marine environments, but this is not required.
9. Which consortia are eligible and who will fund them?
- Consortia with only French partners submit an application for funding to the ANR.
- French-African consortia submit their funding to Expertise France. In this case, the coordinator must be one of the African partners.
- Consortia in collaboration with foreign partners (outside the AFD list) are eligible but foreign partners will not be funded.
Please refer to the texts of the modalities for more details.
Please note that only French partners funded in consortia will have access to GENCI infrastructure.
10. Can I apply if I have never collaborated with other consortium members?
Previous collaborations are not a prerequisite for submitting a proposal.
11. I am a researcher and I would like to find a partner, how can I do it?
A website is at your disposal to search for potential partners or to submit an announcement.
12. What is the timetable for the call?
- August 31: closing date for submission of applications
- Scientific evaluation, interview and steering committee: October-November
- Publication of results: end of November
- Start of the challenge: January 2022
13. Who do I contact if I have a question?
You can send your questions to IA-Biodiv(at)anr.fr
The replay of the information webinars is available here.
We also encourage you to consult :
ANR's financial regulations
Text of the call
Participation modalities (French teams)
Terms of participation (French-African teams)
14. Who is eligible for a grant under the IA-Biodiv Challenge for international consortiums (Public entities/Ministries/NGOs/private partners…)?
To be eligible, the lead applicant must meet the following conditions:
- The lead partner must be a legal person registered under public or private law (legal entity): the lead partner and its partners must have the identification documents for the legal person/legal entity (registration certificate/registration number);
- The lead partner and/or lead scientific coordinator (legal person) must be based in an eligible country.
Eligible countries are:
South Africa; Algeria; Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Green cap; Central African Republic; Comoros; Republic of Congo; Democratic Republic of Congo ; Ivory Coast ; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Equatorial Guinea; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Libya; Madagascar; Malawi; Mali; Morocco; Mauritius; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Uganda; Rwanda; Sao Tome and Principe; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Somalia; Sudan; South Sudan; Tanzania; Chad; Togo; Tunisia; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
- The lead partner must be directly responsible for the preparation and management of the action with the partner(s) and not act as an intermediary;
- The lead applicant and each of its partners must comply with the Annex concerning the beneficiary's commitment to integrity and the fight against corruption (Annex D -Annex VIII of the contract).
- The proposals must include at least one French public research body partner in each consortium
15. How to define where the entity is based?
The lead partner and/or lead scientific coordinator (legal person) must be based in an eligible country. The lead partner and its partners must provide the identification documents for the legal person/legal entity (registration certificate/registration number).
The place and the legal existence of the project leader define where the entity is based, in accordance with the registration certificate/number provided.
16. How can an organization based in a non-eligible country be part of a consortium?
Organizations based in a non-eligible country can be part of the consortium but no finance will be granted to the organization and will not have access to the GENCI database.
17. Is the budget allocated to French partners in international consortia paid directly?
Yes, the funding for French partners is paid directly by Expertise France, after validation of the financial report by the consortium leader. If there are several French partners in the consortium, the funding for the French partners is paid directly by Expertise France to each partner.
18. For international consortia, are the salaries of people on permanent contracts (excluding government contracts) eligible for PAA funding?
Yes, the costs of employees can be covered by the Challenge's budget, if they do not have civil servant status or if they are not already paid by public funds (e.g. employees of a foundation, fixed-term civil servants, company employees, etc.).
19. It seems that the complete financial data are not accessible on the ANR submission portal (e.g. we cannot fill in the persons.months and only change "full cost" and "requested aid"), is this normal since we are applying for AFD funding and not ANR? So all this information has to be filled in Annex A of the AFD documents?
Yes, this information must be filled in the annex with the budget. For the AFD application, the portal is different from the usual one of the ANR.
20. Annexes A to D are to be filled in by the coordinating organisation and Annexes E and F by each of the partners (African universities and French UMRs). Annex B in particular ("banking information" etc) is only to be filled in by the coordinating organisation, not by all the partners applying for funding?
Only the annexes requested in the text of the call for proposals and in the terms of participation for international consortia must be provided.
21. There is no template for the CVs to be attached as annexes, is it ok if we will use a reduced ANR template (1 page)?
The ANR template is OK.
The scientific document "frame" should not exceed 20 pages. The system will automatically refuse documents longer than 20 pages. CVs must be uploaded with the annexes and do not count in the 20 pages.
22. If the project is funded, is the money paid directly to the African universities and French UMRs by Expertise France?
Yes, it is correct.
23. Our African partners have expressed the wish that the money dedicated for theses/masters be managed by the IRD representations in the different countries, or by Campus France, rather than by the accounting agencies of their universities. Is this possible?
This must be presented and argued in the response to the call. It is important to provide a scientific justification for this arrangement and an explanation of the supervision of doctoral students.
If the budget dedicated to theses/masters is managed by a French public institution, even if it is in an African country, this will be considered as funding from the French organisation.
24. Would the solution that our African partners subcontract to IRD the management of theses/masters as a service be acceptable and well considered as funding of the African agency, or still not? And if so, in which category of Annex A should the corresponding amount appear "other costs -> Studies, research"
This will be considered as financing of the African organisation. This is a service procurement, which will have to be tendered according to the amount, in accordance with the document “Grant contract (annex IV - Procurement rules)”.
25. Some questions are perhaps more addressed to Expertise France but I did not manage to contact them either by phone or by email, do you have a contact to give us?
You can contact us through the ANR's generic address. The ANR systematically sends us the questions.
Questions concerning the eligibility of costs :
1. For members: French-Moroccan consortium
- Is the salary of permanent members eligible, difference of treatment compared to French partners
No, the salaries of civil servants are not eligible. The same rules apply as for French partners.
2. If the consortium is funded: Is it possible to add an annex to the contract, mentioning a minimum salary for a doctoral grant different from that applied by the supervising university? (for example, if the salary for doctoral grants is not attractive and does not allow for recruitment).
The need for a clause must be argued in the response to the call for proposals and in the budget. This must respect the coherence of the University's internal salary scale.
3. In the consortium that is being formed, there will be 3 French partners, 2 of which belong to the same CNRS Delegation (these are 2 CNRS mixed research units).
- In order to be able to finance the entirety of a doctoral grant, is it possible to budget for the salary of only one of the two “Mixed Research Unit (MRU)”?
This is possible. A legal entity is equivalent to a project partner. In the consortium agreement and in the response to the call, it will be necessary to indicate how the credits are managed between the partners.
- Should costs be presented in the budget of the other MRU for travel or other expenses?
Yes, if expenses are foreseen for the travel of the other MRU’s staff, they should be included in the budget.
4. Is it necessary to present a single excel table for the budget or one excel table per partner?
A single excel table should be presented showing all the cumulative expenses. The excel table must show the details per partner.