CGIAR’s Agroecology Initiative: Transforming Food, Land, and Water Systems Across the Global South

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The Initiative, Transformational Agroecology across Food, Land, and Water Systems, will work with small-scale farmers across seven nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America

This March, CGIAR kicked off a science-for-innovation Initiative in agroecology. The aim is to demonstrate the applicability – and promote the investment and uptake – of agroecology by food system actors, including small-scale farmers, in low-income countries. The Initiative will work with farmers and other sectors of the food system to ensure that agriculture harnesses nature’s goods and services whilst minimizing adverse impacts on the environment and improving knowledge co-creation and inclusive relationships among food system actors. It will support the application of agroecological principles in food, land, and water systems, working to co-develop and implement agroecological innovations across the food system.

This Initiative, called “Transformational Agroecology across food, land, and water systems” or more simply the “Agroecology Initiative,” kicked off in Montpellier, France. During this event, the Initiative Leadership Team highlighted the necessity for scientific evidence to show how agroecological principles applied in different socio-ecological systems are better able to provide equity, productivity, economic and environmental benefits than alternatives, including the status quo.

During the kick-off meeting, the Leadership Team started building a shared identity around the principles of agroecology, inclusion, participation, and self-determination that will guide the planned activities throughout the Initiative’s implementation. The Leadership Team also refreshed their understanding of the Initiative’s theory of change, recognizing the importance of adapting it as the Initiative advances and lessons are learned. The team also reviewed the planned activities and outputs for 2022, building on what was established during the design phase. The points at which the Initiative’s five work packages (WPs) will feed into each other, and potential opportunities to collaborate with other CGIAR Initiatives, projects and programs, were identified.

The Agroecology Initiative is underpinned by the premise that to be successful, rather than offering prescriptive approaches, agroecology must be flexible with solutions tailored to specific environmental, socio-cultural, economic, and political contexts. It must also combine local and scientific knowledge. Hence, the Initiative prioritizes participation and the co-creation and sharing of knowledge to catalyze technological and institutional innovations, and behavioral change across food systems, and to safeguard social equity and responsibility among farmers and other food system actors during transitions.

To facilitate co-learning and co-development, the Agroecology Initiative will establish an international network of Agroecological Living Labs (ALLs) in seven countries: Burkina Faso, India, Kenya, Laos PDR, Peru, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. The ALLs will be multi-actor environments, promoting the collaborative creation of knowledge and innovations in high-priority landscapes in the seven countries. ALLs are the environments where the initiative’s WPs converge to have “contextually relevant agroecology principles applied by farmers, communities and other food system actors.”

Initiative implementation design around the International Network of Agroecological Living Labs

Biovision, GIZ, CIRAD, and CIFOR-ICRAF are key scaling and implementing partners that actively participated in the design of the Initiative and participated in this meeting.

This Initiative is a key opportunity to learn through agroecology, and to integrate the capacity of CGIAR and partners into a unified effort to transform food, land, and water systems. By working with scaling and impact partners, scientific evidence will be made relevant to actions for agroecological transitions that reverse environmental degradation and social inequity, and improve human well-being,” said Marcela Quintero, the Initiative Leader, who is a Research Director at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

During a reflection panel, the Initiative’s Leadership Team received valuable recommendations from panel members Alexander Schoening from GIZ, Matthias Geck from Biovision, Fergus Sinclair from TPP (Transformative Partnership Platform on agroecological approaches), and Johan Swinnen, CGIAR’s Global Director of Systems Transformation, and Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Johan Swinnen said that “we are really excited about this Initiative” and emphasized that researching and generating evidence around agroecology “is exactly what we should be doing.”

During the event, CIRAD’s Research and Strategy Deputy Director, Dr. Philippe Petithuguenin, also welcomed the Initiative’s partnerships beyond CGIAR, for this sets the agroecological principle of participation as a basis that must and will be replicated at all implementation levels.

Matthew McCartney, the CGIAR Initiative Co-Lead, and Research Group Leader at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), said that the Initiative is “highly ambitious, providing a unique opportunity to catalyze change and show that agroecology can transform agriculture and enhance the lives of small scale farmers in many different contexts.” The Initiative now plans kick-off meetings in each of the seven countries in which it is working so that, after more than a year of planning, research can commence with national and local partners.


The Agroecology Initiative is part of the CGIAR Portfolio of Initiatives for transforming food, land, and water systems in a climate crisis to deliver CGIAR’s new 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy. This initiative integrates the capacities of seven CGIAR entities: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, IWMI, IFPRI, CIMMYT, CIP, WorldFish and IITA.

For more information on the Initiative, please visit: Transformation Agroecology Across Food, Land and Water Systems or contact and


Authored by: Manuel Narjes, Economist, Agroecology Initiative, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; Marcela Quintero, Agroecology Initiative Lead and Research Director – Multifunctional Landscapes, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; Matthew McCartney, Agroecology Initiative Co-Lead and Research Group Leader – Sustainable Water Infrastructure and Ecosystems, IWMI; and Gabriela Wiederkehr Guerra, Coordination Officer, Agroecology Initiative and Research Fellow, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.


Photo by M. Narjes.

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