Transformational Agroecology Across Food, Land and Water Systems


Food systems should drive stability, food and nutrition security, poverty reduction, and economic growth. Instead, not only are they failing to feed the 690 million people currently undernourished, but they are also contributing significantly to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, deepening social inequities, destroying biodiversity, polluting water sources and depleting natural resources.

A redesign of food systems is urgently needed to simultaneously achieve ecological, economic and social sustainability. Agroecology is gaining prominence as an approach to achieve this radical shift. Evidence demonstrates how agroecological approaches can contribute to sustainable, resilient agricultural and food systems today and in the future.

However, despite many locally appropriate agroecological solutions at farm level, mechanisms for scaling them to broader food, land and water systems are limited. Barriers include: a) insufficient evidence and lack of knowledge of what agroecological innovations work, where, when, and why; b) insufficient integration of required capacities and resources; c) lack of, or misaligned, policies, institutions, and governance practices; and d) lack of financial mechanisms.


This Initiative aims to develop and scale agroecological innovations for small-scale farmers and other agricultural and food system actors across different socioecological contexts in seven low- and middle-income countries.


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Transdisciplinary co-creation of innovations in Agroecological Living Labs: Establishing a network of Agroecological Living Labs that will facilitate interactions among food system actors, bringing together small-scale farmers, researchers and others to equitably co-design context-specific agroecological innovations.
  • Evidence-based agroecology assessments: Adapting indicator and metrics frameworks for use in socioecological systems incorporating agroecology in low- and middle-income countries, and assessing agroecological interventions in the Agroecological Living Labs across all scales, from field to territorial food systems.
  • Inclusive business models and financing strategies: Ensuring that low-income rural communities can equitably capitalize on business opportunities arising from agroecological transitions in agricultural and food systems through new or enhanced producer-market linkages and support for the development of innovative financial mechanisms.
  • Strengthening the policy- and institutional-enabling environment: Exploring mechanisms to facilitate the policy integration required to support agroecological transition. Focusing on understanding key factors impacting agroecological transitions and the effects of scaling out these transitions.
  • Understanding and influencing agency and behavior change: Applying an iterative process to understand and then influence individual and collective agency and behavior among food system actors to drive inclusive and equitable agroecological transformation.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. At least 250 national and international researchers collaborating with food system actors (at least 7,000 farmers, 70 policymakers and 35 private-sector companies) across seven countries to co-design and test context-specific agroecological innovations in an international network of Agroecological Living Labs.
  2. Food system actors use knowledge gained from science-based assessments implemented in the Agroecological Living Labs to implement innovations that are sustainable and enhance resilience, with an average increase of 25% in agroecological investment across all seven labs.
  3. Investors, private sector, NGOs and farmers participate equitably in partnerships to co-develop business models, linking agroecological innovations to markets and investment, with at least one such partnership established and functioning in each Agroecological Living Lab.
  4. Investors, public sector and farmer organizations co-design or adapt financial mechanisms that support agroecological innovations, with at least one such financial mechanism in each Agroecological Living Lab.
  5. At least 20 national and regional policymakers and sectoral organization representatives are working together to develop and promote recommendations to bring about the policy integration required to mainstream agroecological principles.
  6. Local organizations and authorities co-develop, strengthen, or adjust local institutions and governance mechanisms to better support agroecological transitions in each Agroecological Living Lab, with at least one new or enhanced institutional arrangement in each lab.
  7. Scientists, funders, policymakers, business partners and civil society re-orient or adjust at least 10 strategies and action plans per identified stakeholder group based on CGIAR and partners’ science on behavioral change mechanisms.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


Evidence indicates that agroecological practices can have positive outcomes on food security and nutrition in households in low- and middle-income countries, through e.g. greater production diversity and reduced use of harmful agrochemicals, as well as increased accessibility to, and consumption of, diverse foods, benefiting 8.4 million people.


Increased farmer profitability and strengthened non-financial components of livelihood capital through promotion of diversified markets and green jobs, and support for diverse forms of small-scale food production benefits more than 2.5 million people.


Evidence to address food system inequities and the inequitable processes and policies that create them, and an improved understanding of how different aspects of marginalization interact in different contexts. Opportunities to empower women and youth, as well as marginalized groups, in decision-making processes, benefits more than 4.3 million women and 1.6 million youth.


Increased climate resilience both through application of agroecological principles and by strengthening social aspects through co-creation and sharing of knowledge in Agroecological Living Labs. Expanded evidence base on the role of agroecology in contributing to both climate change mitigation and adaptation in land and food systems across diverse contexts, averting an equivalent 5.1 million tonnes in CO2 emissions.


Biodiversity and diverse farming practices are supported, and the use of environmentally harmful inputs limited, saving 4.5 km3 in consumptive water use, averting 6,497 hectares of deforestation and bringing 348,361 hectares of land under improved management.


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

For more details, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: Nepali farmer Sita Kumari walks in her field. Photo by C. de Bode/CGIAR.